Orange County

From Rams to Kiss: pro football in OC

Eric Dickerson on the cover of Sports Illustrated in 1984

Eric Dickerson on the cover of Sports Illustrated in 1984

By Pete Zarustica

Professional football returned to Orange County on Saturday at the Honda Center in Anaheim, as the L.A. Kiss defeated the Portland Thunder 44-34 before over 12,000 fans who saw a combination of Arena Football League play and a heavy metal rock concert.

However far removed the Kiss’ game might have been removed from the norm, it was far from first for a pro football team to be based on the county. In fact, the sport has a long tradition here, stretching back to the early Sixties.

In 1962, the Los Angeles Rams held their training camp at Chapman College (now University. The team moved to Orange County State College (now Cal State Fullerton) in 1967 and stayed until 1989, except for one year (1972).

From there, they went to UC Irvine (1990-92), back to Fullerton (1993) and then back to UCI (1994).

Of course, most people know that the Los Angeles Rams left the Coliseum in L.A. for Anaheim Stadium in 1981. The Rams had some good seasons in O.C., with star performers such as Eric Dickerson, but eventually vacated the Big A in 1995 for St. Louis. But the Rams were not the first pro football team in Orange County.

The Continental Football League was founded in 1965 and aspired to be big league, but never reached that level. In 1967 the Orange County Ramblers were added to the CFL. The locals enjoyed considerable success on the field, making it to the league title game twice, losing to the Orlando Panthers 38-14 in 1967 and again to the Panthers in 1968 by the closer margin of 30-23.

Unable to attract big crowds or a TV contract, the league folded after the 1969 campaign.

Next up in Orange County was the Southern California Sun, who played one and-a-half seasons at Anaheim Stadium in 1974 and 1975 in the upstart World Football League. The whole enterprise had an Orange County flair, since league founder Gary Davidson was a Newport Beach lawyer (raised in Garden Grove). He would later help found the World Hockey Association, which competed with the NHL.

The Sun, which featured such stars as Anthony Davis, Daryl Lamonica, Pat Haden and Kermit Johnson, posted records of 13-7 and 7-5 before the whole enterprise went belly-up in the middle of its second season.

Indoor football came to Orange County in 1996 as the Anaheim Piranhas of the AFL. The franchise began in 1994 as the Las Vegas Sting, but after two years fled west to the Arrowhead Pond (now Honda Center). The Anaheim Piranhas of the Arena Football League

The flesh-eating fish finished second in the Western Division of the AFL’s American Conference with a 9-5 record. They lost 30-16 to Tampa Bay in the playoffs, the team which would win the league title.

Things went south in 1997 as the Piranhas sunk to the bottom of the league with a 2-12 mark and went out of business at the end of the season.

So pro football has had a long but not very successful run in Orange County. But I guess we can be grateful that the current entry isn’t called the L.A. Kiss of Anaheim.



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