Last Tuesday, the NFL made waves by announcing that, after 21 seasons away, the Rams will finally be returning to Los Angeles. Collectively, the sporting world seemed to breathe a sigh of relief — the largest void in the word of professional sports was filled, and what surely must have been the longest team location saga in history finally reached its ultimate (or at least penultimate) chapter.
As a native of the L.A. area myself, I was as excited as anyone to hear this news. I’m quite happy for my friends and neighbors who have saved their old jerseys for decades for this moment, and it’ll be nice to have the option to attend my first ever football game in the town that I call home. In some ways, I had been waiting my whole life to witness professional football in my home, and Stan Kroenke had finally, at long last, delivered.
However, as hard as I’ve tried, I’ve stopped short of embracing the Rams with open arms. The reality of the situation is that the Rams’ prolonged departure has changed my view of the team, and football, forever.
Growing up a football fan in Los Angeles was a lot like being that one person at a party who isn’t privy to some inside joke. Every time some out-of-towner talked about going to a game or his or her team’s recent success, the only response was to nod along in agreement — or drive three hours to San Diego. The act of picking an NFL team to root for largely consisted of choosing someone at random from a list, or merely adopting whomever your parents supported.
I wanted nothing more than for some team to get up and move to Los Angeles when I was a kid. I vaguely remember when L.A. got snubbed as a choice for the league’s 32nd expansion team, and I can recall how each successive stadium proposal, from the original Carson plan to the City Industry to Farmers Field Downtown, seemed to go nowhere. The NFL was always willing to give Angelenos hope, but never expressed any hesitation to dash them when things fell through.
In the meantime, other sports in Los Angeles soared. Almost every major team managed to win a championship, and some of the ones that didn’t (looking at you, Clippers) managed to improve in ways that for a long time seemed inconceivable. My allegiances to these teams built up and distracted me from the fact that America had a professional football league on dates that the Super Bowl wasn’t played on.
Fandom, after all, is built by moments more than proximity or history. I’ll always be a Clippers fan because of the dramatic wins I’ve witnessed, the heartbreaking losses I had to sit through and that one time I saw a fan make a half-court shot and win a new car. With the Rams, or any NFL team for that matter, I lack these experiences. It would truly be an insult to the teams I have come to love if I suddenly turned an about-face and awarded them just for showing up.
I’ll root for the Rams if they ever make a Super Bowl, and I’m sure I won’t be able to resist giving them a few dollars for a trip over to their incredible new Inglewood stadium project once it gets finished. But if the Rams want anything more than that, they’ll have to fill in the gaps they’ve left with unforgettable moments and an investment of loyalty to repay my own.
It’ll be an uphill battle that will take plenty of time before it’s resolved. For both our sakes, I hope the Rams win.
Send Andrew Mather an e-check to go towards his Rams jersey fund (let’s face it, it’s got to happen) at amather ‘at’ stanford.edu.