The Chargers and Rams are still looking for love in Los Angeles
There isn’t going to be a lot of professional football in Los Angeles over the next couple of months.
The Los Angeles Chargers, courtesy of a strangely skewed schedule, will play just once at Dignity Health Sports Park between now and Dec. 15. Across town, the Los Angeles Rams are also prepping for a lengthy burst of road action and won’t be seen again in the Memorial Coliseum until Week 11, on Nov. 17.
And the effect of these absences will be … what, exactly?
Football in L.A. is in a strange place. The city went from having no team for two decades to a pair of them that are both still trying to find full support. On Sunday, both of L.A’s NFL stadiums were essentially taken over by rival fans.
At lunchtime on the West Coast, the Rams saw red against the San Francisco 49ers: a blanket of red. A combination of the Rams’ loss of form just months after reaching the Super Bowl and the 49ers’ surprisingly superb start to the season energized one fan base and seemingly persuaded the other to stay at home.
“It turned into a home game pretty quickly,” 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo said of Sunday’s tilt. “It was a lot of red out there.”
A lot of red, indeed. And a lot of yellow and black down in Carson, Calif., where the Chargers faithful (the lack of said faithful being a longstanding running joke among NFL enthusiasts) were heavily outnumbered by Pittsburgh Steelers loyalists.
“This is pretty bad,” Chargers running back Melvin Gordon said. “We know (Steelers fans) travel well. We kind of expected that. You could see from pregame what kind of game it was going to be; just flooded with their fans. Usually, it’s more blue. Today it was more black than anything ... with yellow towels.”
There are good reasons why hordes of people love to live in L.A. and just as many why people like to visit. In football, it has become a destination city. For many NFL fans, the release of the schedule each season is a prompt to pore over the list and identify one road game to plan for.
There are worse places to spend a weekend in than Los Angeles, and a whole bunch of non-football activities to partake in when you arrive. There are also plenty of fans of other teams already living in the area, as that’s what happens when you’re not only home to so many transplants, but when your previously-established teams cut and run and leave a 20-year void.
It used to happen with San Diego, too, where the idea of a visit to one of the most scenic cities in the U.S. combined with warm-weather football held significant appeal. Orange County Register columnist Steve Fryer predicted what happened to the Chargers a full four years ago, after a Steelers road game in Qualcomm Stadium.
“If you wondered what a Chargers home football game would look like in Los Angeles, you got a perfect preview Monday,” Fryer wrote then. “Qualcomm Stadium was at least 60 percent filled by Pittsburgh Steelers fans. It would be closer to 90 percent Steelers fans if that game had been in L.A.”
Both the Rams and Chargers have thus found it difficult to engage their core fans amid that crowd ... and for now at least, it seems that L.A. football’s neat little window in the sun was nothing more than fleeting. Last season produced a combined record of 25-7 and some outstanding football from both teams. The Chargers ended the regular season tied for the best record in the AFC, only to be denied a home playoff game by the emergence of Patrick Mahomes and the corresponding excellence of the Kansas City Chiefs.
The Rams went all the way to the biggest game of all and the city responded to them — sort of. The Coliseum was a happy home hunting ground, but the Super Bowl in Atlanta saw Rams fans heavily outnumbered by New England Patriots supporters, just as the Patriots had been overwhelmed by the Philadelphia Eagles fan base a year prior.
It was enough of a challenge to drum up support when the teams were excellent. It’s that much harder now that they’re struggling. The Chargers followed up a loss to the 0-4 Denver Broncos with another to a 1-4 Steelers team playing third-string quarterback Devlin Hodges — an undrafted rookie making his first-ever NFL start. “Disgusting,” a sportswriter friend who bleeds Charger blue texted me from the game ... it wasn’t quite clear whether he was talking about the team’s performance on the field or the crowd makeup in the stands.
The Rams, meanwhile, have lost three straight and have slid rapidly from being one of the best teams in the NFC to the third-best in the NFC West.
For both teams, hopes of reigniting fan support with a series of rousing home wins are now virtually nil. Having completed their fourth home game on Sunday, the Chargers will be kept away from “home” thanks to a bye, a Mexico City game and a string of road trips. The Rams will also be absent, in part due to a bye week and a “home” game in London.
Before long, the Rams and Chargers will be sharing an arena: the gleaming SoFi Stadium in Inglewood. For now, they must share a city — not just with each other, but with whatever team happens to be coming to town that week.