Ex-Colt changes sides, helping to keep Rams in L.A.

August 05, 1994|By JOHN STEADMAN

Trying to convince the Los Angeles Rams to remain where they've been for almost half-a-century is a self-commitment for Paul Salata, who once played for the Baltimore Colts and is now cast in a role that divides his football emotions. It's an ambiguous position, offering more than a touch of irony.

Baltimore wants the Rams and is trying to sweet-talk owner Georgia Frontiere into transferring the franchise in a cross-country switch that for the first time would move "west to east" rather than the established pattern of going in the opposite direction: as occurred with the Cleveland Rams to Los Angeles (1946), the Brooklyn Dodgers to Los Angeles (1958) and the Minneapolis Lakers to Los Angeles (1960).

Salata, respected for his sense of values and excellent judgment in putting together business deals, wants the Rams to remain where they are and is a part of the committee that feels the same way. The group is led by Jack Lindquist, retired president of Disneyland, and Leigh Steinberg, a prominent agent for professional athletes.

"We are working to defuse the erroneous notion that nobody in Southern California cares about the Rams, whether they stay or leave," Salata insisted. "That's wrong. The Los Angeles Times conducted a survey a couple months ago that resulted in 70 percent of those involved being negative about the future of the Rams. I thought the question was asked incorrectly, something similar to wondering if your life would change if the Rams left."

Salata, by way of background, once caught 50 passes in only seven games for the 1950 Colts, considered one of the worst teams in the history of the National Football League. He subsequently went off to the Canadian Football League, joining the Calgary Stampeders, and with 65 receptions, led all receivers in North America, college and pro, in 1952.

He had played at the University of Southern California before graduating into pro football and baseball, where he was a minor-league outfielder. Eventually, he got a regular job, heading a construction company, but not before creating a reputation as an actor. There were years when, with high ambitions, he rented a tuxedo for the Academy Awards yet knew only frustration. His name was never called.

Salata was in the cast of "Angels In The Outfield," the first time, and figured he'd be contacted for the sequel. That didn't happen. At present, he's devoting his energy to keeping the Rams in Los Angeles.

"I can tell you with the strongest conviction the staff of the Rams don't want to go anywhere," he said. "I love Baltimore and predicted it would get an expansion team. I didn't see how it could be denied. Baltimore is kind of my second home. Artie Donovan, Jim Mutscheller, John Unitas . . . are all dear friends of mine. And don't forget another former teammate from my Baltimore days, Eddie King, who became governor of Massachusetts."

To heat up the Rams-must-remain campaign, Salata is orchestrating a letter- and card-writing effort in Southern California by the public, plus a rally is scheduled Aug. 19, the day before an exhibition game. "The Rams will be playing the Oakland Raiders, yes, the Oakland Raiders, because that's their original name, the same as the Indianapolis Colts are truly the Baltimore Colts.

"Some Rams' officials have clouded the issue, claiming Anaheim never fulfilled promises made to the former owner, Carroll Rosenbloom. We honestly don't know if the Rams are intent on moving or if it's a con game. Some contradictory statements came from gorgeous Georgia Frontiere and John Shaw, one of the club's top executives."

Salata says Shaw "is a good guy but is like an absentee owner," explaining he only rarely appears at football functions and is far from a Don Klosterman (former Rams general manager) when it comes to having a presence in the community. "The Rams make you feel they are doing you a favor to sell you a ticket instead of it being vice versa. That's not the way to operate. I feel Shaw wants the Rams to go, but Georgia may not be in accord. I don't know."

The rap Salata resents is when it's said the Rams haven't been properly supported during a stand of almost 50 years. They were once one of the glamour teams of pro football, exciting, colorful and set attendance records. They also, under ownership of the late Dan Reeves, had one of the most efficient operations in all of professional sports and a model others tried to copy.

It's Salata's belief a departure of the Rams would be akin to terminating Walt Disney Productions. The Rams, you see, might be functioning like Mickey Mouse but he doesn't want to lose them -- thus his involvement in trying to prevent a defection to Baltimore or St. Louis.

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