‘Hard Knocks’ comes at the perfect time for the Rams and Chargers

The Los Angeles Rams and Los Angeles Chargers will have more connecting strands than ever this season.

As the National Football League campaign rumbles ever closer, it was announced on Thursday that the two franchises will appear on the latest edition of HBO’s “Hard Knocks,” which will follow each during training camp.

On top of that, this is the season that the Rams and Chargers become neighbors not just in Tinseltown but at the new SoFi Stadium in Inglewood.

What next, then? A simmering and heated local rivalry? We can only hope.

It would be a seriously welcome development for the league if the two L.A. teams were able to thrive in their new surrounds and engage in an ongoing battle for the football soul of the city.

It hasn’t happened yet, not in the three years since the Chargers moved from San Diego — with the Rams having returned from St. Louis in 2016. In that time, there simply hasn’t been enough consistent success to get the passions truly inflamed for a rivalry on either side.

The 2018 season gave a taste of it, but the Chargers got unlucky in being only a No. 5 seed after going 12-4 and were bounced in the divisional round. The Rams made it to the Super Bowl that same season, but haven’t been able to capitalize upon that run.

“Truthfully, you could say that both sets of fans probably hoped for more after coming to L.A.,” said Rams supporter Steve Carillo, whose partner, Chelsea, is a lifelong Chargers fan. “There have been good moments and glimmers of promise, but not enough of them. It would be nice to be able to talk trash to Chargers fans, and I’m sure they feel the same way. But neither of us have had enough to brag about.”

The teams being in different conferences is an impediment to a truly ferocious feud, too, and the fight for fandom in a crowded Los Angeles sports market is a tricky business.

During the time since the Rams and Raiders departed the area, leaving L.A. a no-football zone for two decades, the Lakers won five NBA championships, the Kings (twice) and the Ducks each won the Stanley Cup, the Angels won the World Series, the Dodgers have been perennial contenders and the Galaxy won five MLS Cup titles.

Having said that, with all that has been missed these past few months, the appetite for football has rarely been stronger — and that clearly remains true in Los Angeles.

Coming as it does before the season, Hard Knocks will give some kind of idea as to how the Rams and Chargers are shaping up … okay, who are we kidding? The show won’t do that at all, because no one knows in preseason what the ultimate outcome will be. The NFL is far too unpredictable for that.

What it will provide, if history is any barometer, is a good deal of entertainment and a peek behind the curtain of life in the league. And both teams plan to approach it properly.

Chargers coach Anthony Lynn previously experienced Hard Knocks as an assistant with the New York Jets in 2010, and has fond memories of it.

“There’s a reason that season was probably the most popular Hard Knocks ever. If you’re going to do a show, do it right. You can’t fake it,” Lynn said. “We didn’t have a problem providing access because we built a relationship with the crew. There was a mutual trust that exists to this day with those people, and many of them will actually be working on this year’s show.”

Popular fayre will be provided by seeing which players can come from nowhere to land a roster spot, and, in these strange times, who didn’t do a good enough job of looking after themselves in quarantine.

And it all will come with a neat twist. Never before have two teams featured in one season, all draped in the pending move of both to SoFi Stadium. Never before have we been so primed for a cross-conference, intracity rivalry.

It will still take time; the Chargers have moved on from Philip Rivers to Tyrod Taylor in the present and Justin Herbert likely for the future. The Rams have questions, too.

But if things shake out as we hope, we might look back at this offseason as the start of something special. If familiarity breeds contempt, perhaps proximity — and exposure — may foster rivalry.

As things stand, the Rams and Chargers have plenty in common, but what would really make this a storyline would be if the discussion of who owns L.A. becomes a real thing. The answer right now, truthfully, is neither of them. The combination of a TV show, a co-tenancy, and the most anticipated season we’ve ever had, may begin to sow the seeds.