By Zane Miller
Los Angeles Rams quarterback Roman Gabriel was entering his sixth season in the NFL, although the team had struggled for most of his time in Los Angeles, with the first three seasons resulting in losing records. However, the Rams took a step forward in 1966 with an 8-6 record with Gabriel starting in all 14 games for the first time in his career. Although the team was unable to reach the playoffs, it was clear that the Rams would be a serious contender in 1967, as they looked to score their first postseason berth since 1955.
Gabriel had his best performance of the season on December 17th, in a home game against the Baltimore (now Indianapolis) Colts. Throwing for three touchdowns and 257 yards with no interceptions, Gabriel led the Rams to a dominant 34-10 victory to close out the regular season with an 11-1-2 record, tied with the Colts for the best record in the NFL that season.
Gabriel finished the 1967 season with 25 passing touchdowns and 2,779 passing yards, claiming fourth in the league in touchdown passes and sixth in yardage. With his impressive turnaround from the previous season which only saw him score 10 touchdown passes, he would be just four behind second-place finishers Norm Snead and Fran Tarkenton of the Philadelphia Eagles and New York Giants respectively. In terms of passing yardage, he would be held out of the top-5 by St. Louis (now Arizona) Cardinals quarterback Jim Hart, who had just cleared the 3,000-yard barrier with 3,008 on the season.
As the Rams took the Coastal Division championship, they would take on the Central Division champion Green Bay Packers for the Western Conference title, with the Packers holding home-field advantage due to the rotational rules for playoff games held at the time. With that, the teams headed to Milwaukee for the postseason’s opening round.
Playing on their home turf would prove to be vital in favor of the Packers, with the game time temperature being around 13 degrees Fahrenheit, a far cry from the 60-degree temperatures in Los Angeles during that same weekend. In addition, the playing conditions for the game were said to be very poor, so much so that the Rams accused the Packers of tampering with the field, though it appears that this complaint never went anywhere.
Regardless, the Rams were able to get on the board first, with Gabriel finding Bernie Casey for the only touchdown of the first quarter. Although the Packers scored two touchdowns of their own to give themselves a 14-7 lead at halftime, Los Angeles was very much still in contention, as they looked for their sputtering offense to roar back to life in the second half. However, the offense would instead go from sputtering to stalling out completely.
The Green Bay defense would shut out the Rams in the second half, along with a pair of touchdowns enabling the Packers to handily take a 28-7 victory to advance to the NFL Championship Game. While Gabriel had an okay game on paper by 1967 standards, throwing for one touchdown and 186 yards with an interception, his offensive line would let him down as he took five sacks on the day. Despite the disappointing loss, the season was technically not over for the Rams, as they would travel to Miami for the Playoff Bowl.
While I mentioned the Playoff Bowl previously in the recap of Milt Plum’s 1962 season, as a quick refresher the Playoff Bowl was the consolation contest held between the teams that had lost in the conference championship games, in this case, the Rams and Cleveland Browns, who lost to the Dallas Cowboys in the Eastern Conference title matchup 52-14. Only this time around, the Rams would play significantly better.
The Rams offense which had been formidable throughout the regular season was back against the Browns, as Gabriel led the team to a 17-0 halftime lead on the strength of touchdown passes to Casey and Billy Truax. The Rams kept the gas pedal down in the second half as well, going on to win 30-6 for their first of two Playoff Bowl victories before the contest was disbanded following the 1969 season. Gabriel had another impressive game, throwing for two touchdowns and 223 yards to end the 1967 season on a positive note.
With all of the statistics in mind, I grade Gabriel’s 1967 season at an A, due to solid regular season numbers particularly in the touchdown category, although the disappointing postseason exit leaves the season short of making it to A+ territory.
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