On Super Bowl Sunday, I held a party at my house. Of the attendees, roughly 90 percent were rooting for the Rams. As the game went on, this contingency grew quiet. By the fourth quarter, most had left the party altogether, leaving behind a small number of vocal Patriots supporters.
Once the Rams’ chances looked dim, their “fans” — at least those in my household — bailed on them and didn’t turn back. In the weeks leading up to the game, I heard several L.A. natives hyping themselves up for a possible parade from Downtown to the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. However, they weren’t prepared for how they would handle a potential loss, let alone a loss in which the Rams showed less fight than a high sloth. And so, they left.
This example may or may not be indicative of the Rams’ fanbase as a whole, but the Patriots’ striking home-field advantage in Atlanta paints a similar picture (media outlets reported an 80-to-20 ratio of Patriots fans to Rams fans in Mercedes-Benz Stadium). Despite the Rams’ dream Super Bowl run and breakneck style of play, the team has yet to win over its city in a meaningful way. Unfortunately for the franchise, a dull, listless performance at the sport’s grandest stage is unlikely to inspire the loyalty it desperately needs — especially with a new stadium set to open in Inglewood in 2020.
In many ways, the team’s unseasoned play in Super Bowl LIII reflected its underdeveloped fanbase. At 24 years old, quarterback Jared Goff looked downright befuddled by the Patriots’ creative pressures and disguised coverages. He was slow to make reads and quick to panic when plays fell apart. It didn’t help that the Patriots shut down the Rams’ league-leading rushing attack, taking away play action passes — Goff’s greatest strength by a mile. Running back Todd Gurley’s versatile skill-set was barely utilized. When he did manage to get his hands on the ball, however, he struggled to find open turf and averaged 3.5 yards per touch.
Afterward, head coach Sean McVay rightfully admitted he was out-coached by living legend Bill Belichick. All season, McVay has been the face of a new generation of offensive innovation. Yet, by confusing Goff and successfully neutralizing one-man wrecking crew Aaron Donald on Sunday, it was Belichick who remained one step ahead of the young whipper-snapper.
So, where do the Rams go from here? Luckily, the team shouldn’t expect a drastic drop-off in 2019. The Rams will likely lose some starters, such as defensive lineman Ndamukong Suh, safety Lamarcus Joyner and tackle Andrew Whitworth due to cap restrictions, age or both. But the team’s true selling point — the exciting young core of Goff, Gurley, Donald and receiver Brandin Cooks — is likely to remain intact. The team’s biggest salary cap challenge will come when Goff is due for a contract extension in 2020, which could blow the Rams’ cap flexibility to shreds, resulting in less available room for stars.
Unlike the Patriots, who build through the draft and regularly cut veterans when they get too expensive, the Rams took a shortcut to reach the Super Bowl. They added a bevy of high-profile free agents in the off-season, giving the franchise short-term success but long-term instability. In order for Los Angeles to become consistent winners, the team will need to take a page out of the Patriots’ playbook and combine stars with late-round diamonds in the rough. It’s unlikely the Rams will be capable of fielding as many former first-round picks and Pro-Bowlers as it did this season.
The Rams reached a Super Bowl in just their third season since relocating from St. Louis, but it’s clear that their strength as a team is still a work in progress. McVay needs to improve his in-game adjustments, Goff needs to grow more comfortable under pressure and Gurley needs to be given the ball more, especially in creative ways (the Rams never threw a screen to Gurley on Sunday, despite the Patriots’ near-constant penetration). Looming cap restraints mean these improvements will need to happen sooner rather than later.
If the Rams do regress from this season — which is not only possible but likely — it’s fair to wonder how their fans will respond. USC’s attendance at football games dropped drastically in 2018 during its first losing season in nearly 20 years, and the Trojans didn’t pack up and leave for a generation, like the Rams infamously did. How would Rams fans respond to a four- or five-win drop-off from last season?
The coming weeks, months and years will test whether McVay’s Rams will become a long-term contender or a flash in the pan. But more so than that, time will test Angelenos’ patience for a team still in its infancy in the city.
McVay, Goff and the fan base will either grow together or grow apart. Winning will be the main decider.
Trevor Denton is a junior writing about sports. His column, “T-Time,” runs every other Wednesday.