After 21 seasons in St. Louis, the Rams have returned to L.A. The NFL had been flirting with the idea of a team in Los Angeles for some time, but it wasn’t until this past year that it became official: The Rams would be returning to their roots. The team played here between 1946 and ’95 before moving to St. Louis when the city of L.A. refused to build the team a new stadium.
After negotiating with team owners, the promise of a new stadium has brought the Rams back. The team will play in a $2.6 billion dollar stadium in Inglewood, which is planned to open in 2019. Until the new stadium is built, the Rams will play in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, which they called home between 1946 and ’79.
Adding to the renewed excitement surrounding football’s return to Los Angeles, HBO has documented the move from St. Louis in their series Hard Knocks.
Many coaches worry about distractions, but it is not apparent that filming has had any effect on the team. “Everybody’s handled it really well,” says head coach Jeff Fisher. “It was a difficult few months getting out here, but everybody’s gotten settled, and everyone is really enjoying their time here.”
As for being on television, linebackers coach Frank Bush has noticed that some players hone in so as not to look bad on TV, while some try to be on camera. “All in all, I think after the first couple of days, you just don’t notice anymore because you just gotta go to work,” says Bush.
Players don’t believe the move from St. Louis has been disruptive. “The team has handled the move quite well,” says wide receiver Kenny Britt. “The transition has been smooth.”
For some players, getting back to Los Angeles has been a homecoming. There are two Rams players who played college football in L.A. Tight end Cory Harkey played at UCLA; T.J. McDonald not only played at USC but also grew up close to the region. McDonald says that it “feels good” to be so close to his family, adding, “I’m having a great time.”
From a fan perspective, the return of the Rams, who open their season Monday night in San Francisco, has brought much enthusiasm to Los Angeles. For their first training camp practice, the Rams set up bleachers for 6,000 fans, but 10,000 showed up. Subsequent practices have also been well-attended. Preseason games do not usually generate a lot of buzz. However the Rams sold 89,000 tickets to their first game, against the Dallas Cowboys, and set an attendance record for an NFL preseason game in the United States.
“The older fans seem to have a good sense of the history, of the franchise,” says Gary Klein, a Rams beat reporter for the Los Angeles Times. “Some of the younger fans have watched them when they were in St Louis, but I think the reason so many people are excited is because they get a chance to learn about new players.”
James Le, a father from Huntington Beach, thinks that having the Rams back in Los Angeles will have an impact on youth football players in the city. “There are a lot of young kids playing football,” says Lee. “Having someone to look up to and somebody to watch; it’s going to change their mentality.”
While loyal and dedicated Rams fans are excited about football returning to L.A., kids who have grown up without a local professional football team have made the city a melting pot of fans.
Henry R., a 14-year-old from Newport Beach, says that he “loves” the Green Bay Packers but that he would root for the Rams if the two teams were to play each other. In fact, after watching a training camp practice, Henry identified Kenny Britt as his favorite player and hopes to select him for his fantasy football team.
Jayvin L., a nine-year-old from Huntington Beach, roots for the Denver Broncos but will also now root for the Rams.
Bush believes that the way to win new fans over is by winning games. “Once you win, people like to latch onto a winner,” he says.
The outlook for the Rams is promising, as they have many young and rising stars. Leading the team on offense is second-year running back Todd Gurley, who won Offensive Rookie of the Year last season. On defense, third-year defensive lineman (and former Defensive Rookie of the Year) Aaron Donald, one of the league’s best at his position, will lead the way.
Fans are hoping the Rams can deliver at quarterback. The team selected Cal QB Jared Goff as the top pick in this year’s NFL draft. While it remains to be seen if he will start this year — he is currently the team’s third option at the position — he has been described as the Rams franchise quarterback of the future.
Some say that the novelty of the move back to L.A. will wear off if the Rams do not have a winning season within the next few years. However Jim Hill, a sports television anchor for KCBS-LA, does believe the Rams have time to win over fans.
“The fans are patient,” says Hill. “The Rams have one of the youngest teams in the league….As long as they are competitive…fans are smart enough, they’ll come out in droves and they appreciate the effort.”
Meanwhile, Klein believes that the Rams will have a “honeymoon of sorts this first season because people are so excited to see them come back. But, it is Los Angeles, where fans expect winners, and if they don’t [win] then they won’t have many years to get that done.”
Photographs by (from top) Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images; Sarah Liu