Saints, Rams, and the Big A

This is an excerpt from Dennis Bateman’s “The Orange County Football Book” a complete history of high school, college, and pro football in Orange County. Copies are still available
(Background: Anaheim Stadium first opened up in 1966 as the home of the California Angels American League baseball club. It was also designed to accommodate football games, and Anaheim city officials lobbied the American Football League for an expansion franchise as early as 1962. Businessman Jim Hardy’s ownership group got the furthest in the effort, and organized a doubleheader exhibition in the summer of 1966. The Boston Patriots beat the Oakland Raiders in the early game and the Kansas City Chiefs beat the San Diego Chargers in the doubleheader designed to showcase Anaheim as a viable site for expansion. However, before the games were held, the AFL and NFL voted to merge, which effectively killed expansion to Orange County. But that was only the beginning…)
“While an AFL franchise would not be coming Anaheim’s way, the sizable crowd of 36,038 was enough to put the endeavor in the black. By exceeding 32,000 in attendance, Jim Hardy Associates was able to make good on its guarantee of paying each of the four teams their $30,000 fee. Although there were some gripes that the field orientation with the end zone stretching from home plate into the outfield, the experience was enough to attract the attention of the Los Angeles Rams.
An agreement was struck that brought the NFL into Orange County. By this time, the Rams (who had been holding their training camps at Chapman College) were moving to their new training camp facilities at Cal State Fullerton through most of the decade, and it seemed a natural fit for the team to open locally.
On August 2, 1967, Los Angeles played host at Anaheim Stadium to the NFL’s newest team. The New Orleans Saints would take the field for the first time under the lights at the Big A. Saints head coach Tom Fears, who would later be selected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, was facing his former team, who were led by George Allen.
A respectable crowd of 26,364 came out as the feisty Saints would give the Rams plenty to handle. Following a scoreless first quarter, fullback Les Josephson scored on a two-yard run and Bruce Gossett hit on a 14-yard field goal.
Fears pulled ineffective starting quarterback Gary Cuozzo late in the second period, replacing him with former UCLA Bruin and San Francisco 49er Billy Kilmer. On their first possession of the second half, the Saints went on an 18-play, 80-yard drive which ended when Kilmer found rookie fullback Leslie Kelley for a nine-yard touchdown, the first score in New Orleans team history. But it would be the only score for the Saints, as Gossett kicked two field goals to ice the game for the Rams 16-7.
The same two teams would rematch again a year later, and a crowd of 29,505 watched as Roman Gabriel gave the Rams a 7-0 first quarter lead on a one-yard plunge. But Billy Kilmer was back and threw TD passes to Danny Abramowicz and Monty Stickles for a 14-7 halftime lead.
Though struggling early without holdout stars Jack Snow and Deacon Jones, the Rams came back as Gabriel threw a 29-yard scoring toss to Bill Truax, and Los Angeles grabbed the lead for good in the fourth quarter, with Gabriel passing to Bernie Casey for a 10-yard touchdown reception and a 21-17 Rams win.”

—Dennis Bateman


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