When the Rams picked up and left St. Louis in 2016 to return to Los Angeles, they never shied away from the fact that they were heading to the Lakers’ town. The Dodgers’ town. Heck, even a USC football town.
Los Angeles hadn’t been a pro football town for 22 years, and even before the Rams left for St. Louis in 1995 after 48 years in Southern California, the Dodgers and Lakers reigned supreme. The Rams knew the only way to win over a city so smitten by rings and banners was to begin collecting their own.
Six years into those efforts, the Rams took their first step — a big one — in the right direction on Sunday night. In a dramatic, entertaining Super Bowl, the Rams surged past the Cincinnati Bengals 23-20 and won their first Lombardi trophy while residing in an L.A. zip code.
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“The most important thing we can do to build this franchise after being gone for 20 years is to capture the next generation of fans,” Rams chief operating officer Kevin Demoff said. “The best way to capture that next generation, it’s not about flipping someone who is a Pittsburgh Steelers fan and grew up in Pittsburgh and moved to Los Angeles to become a Rams fan. That’s great if it happens but that may not be realistic. What it’s about is their kids who are 8, 9, 10 years old growing up wearing Cooper Kupp jerseys, wearing Aaron Donald jerseys and becoming lifelong Rams fans. That’s what these two weeks truly are about. That’s what this season has been about.”
For the Rams, it’s about more than winning. People like Demoff and receiver Robert Woods know what it takes to connect with this city because this is where they grew up.
As the 1980s Showtime Lakers or the Dodgers of “Fernandomania” days or even the Wayne Gretzky Kings of the NHL can attest, it works only if the victories come with a healthy dose of entertainment.
Win a title, but do it in a way that makes the celebrities turn out in droves and ensures that fans can’t look away when the game is going on.
“We have the football team here; we’ve got to be a part of that L.A. legacy, L.A. history,” Woods said. “You’ve got to win championships in L.A. You can win NFC championships; you can win playoff games but that’s not what we do here in L.A. I feel like we win championships. We make our fans proud; we make them loyal fans and this is how you do it. You win championships. You have parades going down Figueroa or whatever street we’re going down, but it’s super impactful for kids growing up, for new fans growing up. This is how you become their favorite team. This is how you get long, loyal fans. You get rings, you get trophies.”
The Rams’ win against the Bengals offered a window into what that can look like. In a Sofi Stadium that had plenty of Cincinnati fans, the Rams’ burgeoning fan base made its collective voice heard in some key moments, none bigger than when Donald pressured and pulled down Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow on fourth down to force the game-sealing incompletion.
Among the many celebrities in attendance: Jay-Z, Kanye West, Prince Harry, Matt Damon, Charlize Theron, Ben Affleck, Jennifer Lopez, LeBron James, Justin Bieber, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Drake, Will Ferrell, Ryan Reynolds, Sean Penn and Mark Wahlberg.
It was no coincidence all those luminaries were in attendance to see a Rams team built on a foundation of stars such as Donald, Kupp, Matthew Stafford, Jalen Ramsey, Von Miller and Odell Beckham Jr. and led by a rock-star head coach in Sean McVay.
“The one thing we all talk about is we are in the entertainment business and sports is entertainment,” Demoff said. “When you look at Los Angeles, the teams that have been synonymous with winning have had star power. Maybe that’s unique to this market, but certainly that was a blueprint that has been provided for generations of Angelenos to understand how to win. It doesn’t have to be the same but you know what it looks like.”
To be sure, even after Sunday’s victory, the Rams aren’t anywhere close to approaching Laker and Dodger levels of support in this city.
As recently as Jan. 30, the Rams hosted an NFC Championship Game that was overrun by fans of the rival San Francisco 49ers. It’s an experience that left Demoff frustrated, at least until the Rams forged a fourth-quarter comeback to advance to the Super Bowl.
It could still be a while before the Sofi Stadium public address announcer booms his trademark “WHO’S HOUSE?!” and the fans responding can say without question it belongs to the Rams.
But Sunday’s win should help expedite a process the Rams know will take more time. And more banners.
“I absolutely believe that we can be at the level the Dodgers and the Lakers have been and continue to be,” Demoff said. “But those teams have had decades of success, the championships, building a deep, multicultural fan base. Stars. Legends. Hall of Famers. … You cannot get to be at the pinnacle of this market by having one great season. You get to the pinnacle of this market by having great season after great season after great decade after great decade and building fans and generations of fans with that.”
After all, no franchise in this town gains true validation until it produces some blockbuster sequels.