Big fan turnout greets Rams at their California workout
OXNARD, Calif. -- If the Rams are headed back to Southern California, their long-suffering local fans are ready to welcome them home.
The St. Louis Rams were greeted by a huge contingent of jersey-wearing, flag-waving fans chanting "L.A. Rams!" as they took the practice fields Monday in Oxnard, an hour west of Los Angeles.
The Rams are in Ventura County for three days of workouts at the Dallas Cowboys' training complex, but they're also providing a tantalizing appetizer for fans who know the franchise is weighing a return to Los Angeles, its home for 49 years until 1995.
Two decades away haven't dimmed the passion of the fans whose shouts of "Whose house? Rams' house!" echoed through an Oxnard crowd packed with jerseys of players ranging from Los Angeles favorites Vince Ferragamo and Jack Youngblood to St. Louis stars Robert Quinn and Nick Foles.
Even Rams owner Stan Kroenke was spotted at the Cowboys' training complex, which encompasses most of a hotel just a few miles from the Pacific Ocean.
Kroenke, the billionaire who lives much of the year in Malibu, rarely attends camp in Missouri. He has purchased land in Inglewood and partnered with developers to build a palatial football stadium capable of housing two NFL teams -- but done it all without explicitly saying he intends to move the Rams.
The Rams traveled to Los Angeles after a preseason loss in Oakland last Friday, and they had the weekend off from practice. Many players spent the weekend checking out the town: Linebacker James Laurinaitis ran into Arnold Schwarzenegger while working out at the famed Gold's Gym in Venice, and running back Benny Cunningham hit Hollywood's famed Roscoe's House of Chicken and Waffles.
Inglewood Mayor James T. Butts Jr. also turned out for the Rams' Oxnard trip. He said the stadium site is getting utility and sewer lines, and he believes it will be ready for construction in mid-December.
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Butts was impressed by the fan turnout in Oxnard, but not surprised.
"I think it's a huge message to the Rams' popularity here in Southern California," Butts said. "The Rams are the team that most of us as children grew up with. Roman Gabriel. Jack Snow. The Fearsome Foursome. That is part of our DNA growing up, so there is no team that can claim they are more integrated into the psyche of the people that were old enough to attend football games than the Rams. That's hands-down. And then would come the Raiders."
The Rams became the first major pro sports team in Los Angeles when owner Dan Reeves uprooted his 1945 NFL champion team after eight NFL seasons in Cleveland, coveting the growing market and postcard-perfect weather of the West Coast.
The Rams were a Southland institution for the next five decades, winning the 1951 NFL title and reaching the Super Bowl after the 1979 season. Although they went through long stretches of poor play, they made generations of fans with their distinctive uniforms, star players and tradition.
For this special three-day engagement, the Southern California fans organized $30 round-trip bus rides and packed the parking lots hours before practice. They planned to wrap up each day with food, drinks and partying at a nearby restaurant.
Ray Soto has been a Rams fan since 1960, and he made the drive from Bakersfield to Oxnard to attend practice with his son and grandson. While his brothers gave up on the team after its move to the Midwest, Soto stayed faithful to the franchise that has been in his family's life since he gave a blue-and-white helmet to his son as a child.
"I feel sorry for the St. Louis fans, and I appreciate them taking care of our team," Soto said. "I know for sure they're coming back, because Kroenke knows how much value they'll have to bring them back here."