One big caveat to my column this week: This issue was sent to the printer before the end of the Super Bowl, so forgive me if I left opinions on potentially juicy highlights, such as Tom Brady dropping another wide-open pass or Gisele yelling at Tommy’s teammates for dropping passes or really, any embarrassing thing that may have happened to Brady — I was here for it.
But regardless of what transpired Sunday in Atlanta, the fact that the Los Angeles Rams played in the Super Bowl remains remarkable.
Three years ago, the Rams moved from St. Louis to Los Angeles amid an uproar of controversy, and the team quickly became a laughingstock. Interest was tepid. The Coliseum was half-filled. Jeff Fisher was a mediocre head coach. Quarterback Jared Goff was labeled a bust. The likelihood of the Rams breaking through among the throng of professional franchises in Southern California seemed extremely unlikely.
But things have changed, and all it took was a little winning. After a playoff appearance last season warmed up interest, the Rams blitzed through the NFC this season and wound up in the Super Bowl in their third season at the team’s new home. They have found a gem of a head coach in Sean McVay, who turned Goff into one of the league’s best quarterbacks.
Suddenly, local attention is picking up. Suddenly, the Rams are filling the Coliseum, averaging 72,429 fans per game this season. But, even if they knocked off the Patriots on Sunday and claimed a championship, will it be enough to reinvigorate their stature in Los Angeles, a city already stacked with iconic sports teams — both professional and collegiate?
The long-term answer is maybe. The short-term answer is no.
It was easy for me to root for the 49ers growing up. I was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area and quickly aligned myself with the region’s sports teams. I was drawn in by the 49ers and their history, enthralled by old highlights of Joe Montana and Steve Young, Dwight Clark and Jerry Rice. The 49ers earned my support, though, purely out of location. They were in the Bay. I grew up in the Bay. That was it.
To Los Angeles football fans of my generation, there was no such team, and it didn’t seem like they cared much. The Rams’ move to Los Angeles was not like the Seattle SuperSonics’ move to Oklahoma City, where they immediately became the hottest ticket in town as the lone professional sports franchise. In L.A., there are literally two franchises for every professional sport — NBA, MLB, NHL, MLS and now, the NFL — in addition to USC and UCLA. There were 10 teams worth following year-round before the Rams even came to town.
In fact, in the week leading up to the Super Bowl, the game wasn’t even the most discussed sports topic in Los Angeles — all the buzz focused on whether the Lakers would acquire Anthony Davis, the NBA superstar who requested a trade early last week. And on Thursday, LeBron James returned from a monthslong injury for the Lakers and stole more headlines. According to Los Angeles Times writer Nathan Fenno, the top six most-read sports stories last Monday in the paper were about the Lakers, Dodgers and USC. Six days before playing in the biggest annual sporting event in the world, the Rams were relegated to below the fold by their hometown paper.
In Los Angeles, the Rams shoved their way into a crowded elevator, fighting for space. And it is hard when there hasn’t been an NFL franchise in the city since the mid-1990s. When you think football in L.A., you think of Saturdays watching USC at the Coliseum or, to a lesser extent, UCLA at the Rose Bowl. You don’t think about coming back to watch the Rams or Chargers on Sundays.
Aside from the fact that Los Angeles is typically a college football town, many NFL fans in L.A. already have their teams. If you grew up in Los Angeles in the ’90s or early 2000s, you probably rooted for an out-of-town franchise. So why suddenly change allegiances just because the Rams arrived?
But here is the long-term view: Every sports franchise had to integrate itself into its home city. Even Los Angeles’ most iconic teams came from elsewhere — the Dodgers from Brooklyn in 1957, the Lakers from Minneapolis in 1960. Over the course of more than half a century, both franchises developed cultures of sustained success and legacies, drawing in generation after generation of fans. Going through the Lakers’ timeline conjures up memories of Jerry West, Kareem, Magic, Kobe and Shaq, all the way to the present day with LeBron. Look at how many Dodgers are in the Hall of Fame and how much the team’s recent World Series appearances meant to the city.
I’m not saying it will take half a century for the Rams to develop a fanbase. But it will take that level of sustained success for the franchise to truly find a home in Los Angeles. The upside to playing in L.A. is the large media market and the automatic attention that comes with it. The downside is that in a region so oversaturated with sports teams, the Rams will have to be spectacular for a long period of time before they can even start climbing the ladder to reach the Lakers, Dodgers or USC.
It all starts with a Super Bowl appearance, though. If they haven’t already, kids in L.A. who have yet to pick an NFL allegiance have automatically become Rams fans, win or lose on Sunday. In turn, they will pass on their fandom to their children, and so forth. And that is where the legacy of the Los Angeles Rams can begin.
Eric He is a senior writing about current events in sports. He is also the features editor of the Daily Trojan. His column, “Grinding Gears,” runs Mondays.