When the Los Angeles Rams take the field September 10th to kick off their second season back in the City of Angels, fans will be cheering all over town.
However, the loudest roars will be coming from Tom Bergin’s on Fairfax Avenue. The landmark Irish pub has a storied history with the Rams and when the Bergins faithful cheer a Todd Gurley touchdown, they’ll be sitting underneath the authentic 1951 Los Angeles Rams’ championship banner.
When the Rams football team moved to Los Angeles from Cleveland in 1946, they became the city’s first top-level professional sports team. Thus, when the team won the NFL championship game on December 23, 1951, it was the city’s first major pro sports title.
So, how did Tom Bergin’s acquire a major artifact of Los Angeles sports history?
For one thing, Tom Bergin, the bar’s namesake owner and Rams owner Dan Reeves Sr. were good friends. But the bar became the Rams’ unofficial clubhouse partially for geographical reasons.
According to Jim Hardy, the Rams’ quarterback from 1946 to 1948 and at age 94 the oldest living Rams alumnus, the bar became the Rams’ home base because “most of the Rams lived in that part of town, the team offices were up on Beverly Boulevard and we practiced at Gilmore Stadium, which is where the CBS network is now. [Bergin’s] was the closest place,” he said.
As pro football players in the 1940s and 1950s didn’t make the millions they do now, they would help out at the bar during the off season, and even played for the Tom Bergin’s softball team.
“It was the place the Rams football team hung out socially with their pals, girlfriends and wives and it continued to be such for many years,” Hardy said.
The 1951 NFL Championship Game was held at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in Exposition Park and the Rams upset the defending champion Cleveland Browns, 24 to 17. Since no one expected the Rams to win, there was no plan for a championship celebration.
“Tom Bergin invited them back to the bar that night for a celebratory dinner. The entire team came back immediately after the game,” said current Tom Bergin’s owner Derek Schreck.
As a way of thanking Bergin for hosting the team, then Ram’s owner Reeves later gifted the bar the championship banner he had made to celebrate.
The banner is a dual-sided “horse blanket” style banner. For a while, it was hung out in open display with one side taking damage from the cigars that were often smoked in the bar.
When Schreck bought the bar in 2012, he found it, in his words, “wadded up in the attic.” Upon realizing what he had found, Schreck made sure to hang it behind museum quality glass, with the less damaged side facing forward. Beneath the banner hangs a telegraph from Reeves to Bergin thanking him for hosting the team’s victory dinner.
It’s believed the 1951 Rams banner is the only NFL championship banner or trophy in private non-team related ownership.
Jon Kendle, archivist at the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio said that while he knows NHL teams like the Edmonton Oilers have auctioned off championship banners, it’s harder to say about NFL banners.
“Since most teams play outdoors, they don’t have a place to hang a felt banner, so championship banners are rare. So, to my knowledge, it is the only NFL championship banner in private ownership,” said Kendle.
Schreck said he is hoping that the 21st century incarnations of Tom Bergin’s and the Los Angeles Rams can work together again in celebration of their shared history, since as Schreck says, “We want to keep this [as] Rams hallowed ground.”
The Rams memorabilia isn’t the bar’s only local sports connection.
Longtime Los Angeles Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda has his name on one of Tom Bergin’s famous shamrocks and one wall features autographs from USC athletes who frequented the bar, with one major exception.
“The only autographed USC college photo that we have that won’t make it up on the wall is O.J. Simpson. He was a regular here in college,” said Schreck laughing.