For a moment, it actually felt like L.A. was all in on the Rams

For a moment, it actually felt like L.A. was all in on the Rams


A Los Angeles Rams fan poses outside the stadium before the NFC Championship Game against the San Francisco 49er.
Image: Getty Images

It took a few hours, but a roar finally bellowed out in the sports bar following Aaron Donald’s forced interception of Jimmy Garappolo. A noise level that for most of the game didn’t exceed the level of a drunk birthday party group in the back of a restaurant. The moment Donald enveloped Garappolo, a person could forget that there were only two people in Los Angeles Rams shirts in the bar area and the specs of San Francisco 49ers red all throughout the building, that same red had invaded SoFi Stadium again this Sunday, along with a Jacksonville Jaguars shirt, Chicago Bears hoodie, a No. 33 Patrick Ewing Knicks shirt, an authentic Tom Brady Tampa Bay Buccaneers jersey — gold captain patch included — and a Lil Uzi Vert doppleganger with no shirt under his jacket. The groups of Rams fans at the tables came to life, with the energy of two Rams engaged in a headbutting duel.

For a couple of weeks, or at least for a couple of minutes, the sports fans of Los Angeles have something to think about besides the free-falling Lakers. The Rams are on their way to the Super Bowl for the second time in four seasons. An impressive feat for a team that has relocated twice in less than 21 years. However, as the Rams’ efforts to attempt to prevent San Francisco 49ers fans from purchasing tickets to the NFC Championship Game showed, their fan base isn’t quite Bills Mafia.

The Rams are technically Los Angeles’ oldest major professional sports franchise. They originally moved from Cleveland to L.A. in 1946, long before the Lakers, Dodgers and Clippers, and two decades before the Angels and Kings became franchises. Legends such as Norm Van Brocklin, Merlin Olson, and Deacon Jones had Hall of Fame careers at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum before the Rams joined the Angels in Anaheim in 1980 — I may be a transplant, but even I know Anaheim isn’t cool, I don’t care how many $5 Buds the Angels sell me, or balls Shohei Ohtani blasts into the parking lot. And Raider mania was injected into most Los Angeles football fans by Al Davis’ move to the city in ’82.

Then both teams left the Los Angeles area in 1995 and for two decades the closest thing those fan bases got to professional football was Maurice Jones-Drew and Reggie Bush in college on opposite sides of town at the same time. The biggest shock for me moving here, other than seeing an Elvis impersonator at an LA Fitness, was how many people told me they weren’t football fans. I get it though, it’s L.A.. Why worry about football when you land Shaquille O’Neal in free agency and can go to the beach 300-plus days a year.

It was an uphill battle for the Rams in their 2016 return, and it was noticeable in the only sports bar near me in 2019 — Buffalo Wild Wings. They went all out for that NFC Championship Game, decking the restaurant in Rams paraphernalia and the manager even acting as the MC for the game. In four months in the city, she was the first person I ever heard start a, “Whose House? Rams House!” chant. That was of course a classic game with the late pass interference that was as real as Bush’s 2005 Heisman trophy.

The reaction to the Rams’ 26-23 overtime victory over the New Orleans Saints I would describe as the doctor did George Costanza’s reaction to his fiance’s death — restrained jubilation. It was just some hand raising, high-5s and hugs, and one crowd pop. You’d get the same reaction to Justin Turner hitting a walk-off home run in July.

I returned to that Buffalo Wild Wings yesterday afternoon to see if there would be a little more team spirit in 2022, and at first glance the scene was even less spirited than three years ago. It was the second half of what would turn into a Cincinnati Bengals 27-24, upset win against the Kansas City Chiefs. There were no decorations, and while the place was full, it wasn’t spilling out with people like last time. That disappointment quickly faded when I remembered that the security guard and I were both wearing masks because the world is far different than it was in 2019.

I walked over to the bar where I saw someone I knew was and set up camp for the rest of the day. After the first game there were some elated Bengals fans at a table near the door, and then the anticipation built… for a bar regular to arrive who is arguably the largest Chiefs fan in Southern California in both decibel level and muscle mass. He showed up after watching the game at home, and had the au-damn-dacity to say, “Mahomes ain’t my homie for the next eight months.”

Sir, Jimmy Garappolo and Matthew Stafford are about to play in a game with a Super Bowl berth on the line. Show some gratitude when around other NFL fan peasants begging for scraps of spectacular quarterback play.

Then Brandy sings the national anthem, and I see a full Rams flag waving at one of the tables in the back. I didn’t see that last time, so maybe there’s hope for Rams fans yet. My hope was quickly diminished with the weakest, “Whose House? Rams House,” chant ever.

(SN: I know what the Rams are going for with the chant. I went to Baptist and AME churches my entire childhood, I understand call and response. Still, in a bar, this chant feels forced, like a monotone assistant minister reaching for an Amen. Work on it, or just go with “Let’s go Rams.”)

The game began and by the end of the first quarter I don’t know if sleepies were hitting the Rams crowd after a full Sunday of day-drinking, or the game was just boring because it got quiet. There was some energy early after the out-numbered 49ers fans let out a big cheer when Stafford threw a first-quarter pick, one of whom shot a double-bird at the entire restaurant. A woman standing next to me had this response, “someone tell that 5’5 motherfucker to sit down.” I somehow managed not to spit out my Wild Herd.

There was one Rams fan who was ready to party from the start. A young man in an old Robert Woods jersey went full frat bro moshpit after Stafford’s first touchdown pass put the Rams up a score — there was a different party at his table in the second half though, I guess some people can’t hang.

By halftime the 49ers were winning, both on the scoreboard and in the restaurant. For all the Rams House chants the Rams fans tried to start — I lost count at eight — they couldn’t get that “COOOP,” chant right once for Cooper Kupp. One of the oldest chants in the book, the “OOO” for your own player that sounds like “BOO.” That was sad.

In the second half, the place really did turn into a restaurant. It sounded more like many conversations were being held at the same time than people watching a football game. I was resigned to the fact that it wasn’t going to get much better until the Rams fans woke up from their day-drinking slumber with Kupp’s early fourth-quarter touchdown. At that point quite a bit of Rams enthusiasm directed at the 49er fan who had flipped everyone off earlier, and his response was to do the scoreboard point, as the score was 17-14 at the time, but he was standing at a bar. He was pointing at a beer tap.

Then the Rams tied the game, but the room still didn’t have the tension you would expect in a situation like this. The Super Bowl is on the line. It was 2019 all over again, and I was resigned to the fact that this Rams thing has a long way to go in Los Angeles.

And then the best player on the Rams did what the best player is supposed to do, win the damn game. After the Rams took the lead on a field goal, Garappolo was in the process of conducting one of the worst two-minute drives in NFL history when Donald decided to end it. He flung Garappolo to the turf like a mismatched MMA fighter, and when Travin Howard intercepted that ball the restaurant exploded. Beer went flying at the back tables — a waste of $5.95 but they were excited — people started screaming, walking around, real high-5s were dished out, veins were popping in peoples’ arms and necks, and old double-bird even had to tip his cap to the bar.

I was shocked. Usually the energy in a room can be felt as it’s building to a crescendo like that, but this hit without warning. It was cool to see. Then once the game officially ended, the Rams fans looked like ones whose team was going to the Super Bowl. I think I even saw someone wipe away tears. In this particular room, that real sports feeling finally got to the Rams fans. I took it all in for a second as something nice to see. Wherever you live, if you like sports, it’s fun when the home fans get to bask in victory. Then I saw the dark liquor shots getting passed around the bar and decided it was time to get my check.

Los Angeles’ oldest major professional sports franchise is embarking on the rare journey of having to start all over again at home. And the Rams have to do it in one of those, you-better-be-good-because-winter-isn’t-a-real-thing-here type of towns. They’ve gone all in with a home stadium in actual Los Angeles County, a roster, and a $790 million settlement with St. Louis. The effort has been made, and maybe the Rams are finally starting to make themselves at home.



Original source here

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About the Author

Anthony Barnett
Anthony is the author of the Science & Technology section of ANH.