INGLEWOOD, Calif. — Green is my favorite color.
It seemed as good a reason as any to pick the Philadelphia Eagles as my NFL team given that I was living in Los Angeles, which had no NFL team to call its own for over 20 years.
In 1994, both the Raiders and the Rams played their final home games in L.A. and then decamped for Oakland and St. Louis, respectively. It would be an exaggeration to describe Angelenos as bereft, partly because both teams weren’t homegrown (the Rams came from Cleveland in 1946, the Raiders from Oakland in 1982), partly because so many Angelenos were transplants that they had loyalties to other teams, and partly because the Rams didn’t even feel like a Los Angeles team already, given that they had been playing all their home games in Anaheim since 1980.
Over the years of living in L.A., I cheered on the Birds from afar, though with more professional objectivity once I went into sports journalism as a career. As fate and work assignments would have it, I ended up covering a World Cup before I ever went to a Super Bowl.
The Rams won their first Super Bowl in 2000 while on their hiatus from L.A. I watched, as I did every year, and felt nothing for the team in general, though I admired Kurt Warner’s grit.
Having no local team also killed off another tradition, which was a Los Angeles location as host. The city had hosted seven Super Bowls over the years, including the very first, but after Super Bowl XXVII in 1993, the weather wasn’t enough for the NFL hosting committee to overcome the obvious objection that a non-NFL city should not be the host. Plus, the venues previously used to do so, Pasadena’s Rose Bowl and the Memorial Coliseum in Los Angeles proper, were aging structures, even if classic in a certain way.
Finally, in 2015, L.A. went from football famine to feast as both the Rams and the Chargers (who were, in fact, an original L.A. team, having been founded in the city in 1959 as part of the AFL) signed deals agreeing to move back to Los Angeles. The Rams returned physically first, playing in 2016 in the Coliseum, while the Chargers played a year later in Carson’s Dignity Health Park.
Like the lyrics of “California Love” reveal, the L.A. area does know how to party, and for many, throwing a good Super Bowl party was the default mode during the fallow years of no local NFL team. Already in the habit, even after NFL teams came back to the area, I played host in 2018 for the unforgettable game in which the Birds claimed their first Super Bowl after 57 years of waiting and 85 years of existence — all in the City of Brotherly Love. I was a terrible host, since once the game began I paid attention to nothing else. I screamed when the Philly Special was successful and cried when the Eagles clinched their victory.
The next Super Bowl, the Rams were the victims of Tom Brady’s Super Bowl revenge as the Patriots quarterback reclaimed the Lombardi Trophy that the Eagles denied him in 2018. It would be his final win as a Patriot, although he would claim one more Lombardi Trophy in 2021, quarterbacking the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
In 2020, SoFi Stadium opened up after years of construction, yet in the midst of a pandemic, fans were initially not allowed in the building. Now, with fans able to attend, the Rams have fulfilled the largest part of a dream season — making it to the Super Bowl where their city is hosting.
Driving into the city on the 10 freeway, with electronic signs warning fans “Don’t drive drunk/high” on a cloudless and warm February day that almost all Southern Californians take for granted, I mused about attending my first Super Bowl in a city I know better than any other, starring a local team that still has a way to go to win over many of those who live here.
The media bus ride to the stadium in Inglewood passed nondescript auto body shops, corner stores, and taquerias. Cars were bumper to bumper parked in all the side streets, with enterprising residents holding signs offering parking on their front lawns for hundreds of dollars. The transition to the recently constructed stadium area was abrupt, with a liquor store on Prairie Avenue next door to a spiffy new Starbucks.
SoFi is a miracle of stadium design, with excellent sight lines. I found myself nodding along to a Halle Berry stadium video about Hollywood and the NFL selling stories for entertainment. Oh yes. I stood for both Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing and The Star Spangled Banner and recognized each L.A. neighborhood shown in the pregame video, let alone the local icons like Snoop Dogg, Danny Trejo, Vanessa Bryant, and Jay Leno.
Cincinnati Bengals fans and their resplendent orange and black gear were in abundance in SoFi, even as the view of Inglewood’s Forum, visible from seats in the auxiliary pressbox reminded, yes, this was L.A. Then again, Los Angeles fans have typically been a late-arriving crowd. This was no different, but the roar from blue-and-gold clad fans that greeted the Rams once they entered the stadium was evidence that the team had indeed found a home.
It was a memorable first in-person Super Bowl experience.
Still wished the Birds were here.