By Cole Kinder
Featured Guest Writer
The day was November 21, 2001, and a fifth high-level football team in the LA Area would cease to exist, all in less than 10 years' time.
The team was the Cal State Northridge Matadors (FCS). They were the least popular team to have fallen in the era of football leaving LA, but nonetheless, they proved to be a final blow in what was then, a forever two-team town.
In the previous decade, LA closed the millennium losing two FBS teams and two NFL teams. LA lost the Long Beach State 49ers (1991) and Cal State Fullerton Titans (1992), in addition to the Los Angeles Raiders and Los Angeles Rams, both in 1995.
This left the Los Angeles Metropolitan Area (~19 million) with only the UCLA Bruins and USC Trojans.
To put this in perspective, Ohio (~12 million) has 8 FBS teams and 2 NFL teams, while the Cincinnati Metropolitan Area (~2 million) itself has 2 FBS teams and 1 NFL team.
Thus, growing up in Los Angeles with no NFL team and not a lot of options for high-level college football meant that many football players felt as if their area was not a football town. It was very different from the rest of the USA. Sure, we grew up with high school football being the top high school sport like everywhere else, from Mater Dei to St. John Bosco, and others like Long Beach Poly. But, not at most of our universities or at the professional level.
In LA, we grew up pondering why so many big universities from the three mentioned before to UC Irvine, UC Riverside, Loyola Marymount, and Pepperdine, just to name then Division 1 schools, had no football teams. We grew up wishing for football to come to our local universities and for the NFL to come back, whether it would be the Jaguars, Raiders, Rams, Chargers, or any other team for that matter.
It felt like, and still does, that Los Angeles was not reaching its full football potential.
But, then on January 12, 2016, the NFL announced the Rams were coming back to Los Angeles! It was the first time in a while that Los Angeles got an additional football team at the NCAA Division 1 or NFL level.
This rekindled football in the LA Area. But, it still felt a bit like we did not have a football team yet. The Rams were still wearing the St. Louis dark blue and gold and were playing in a temporary stadium they used before with a non-playoff team. That first year saw the Rams go 3-13. LA was excited to have NFL football back, but it still did not feel good or even real yet. Many of the older generations still felt betrayed by the Rams for their 1995 move, and many of the youths had a team they adopted already.
On January 12, 2017, the Chargers announced they were moving to Los Angeles too. The Chargers were going to play in a temporary stadium as well, home to the LA Galaxy. Now LA had two NFL teams and two FBS teams! Yet, for many fans, it still did not quite feel real or good yet. And the Chargers leaving San Diego left a bad taste in everyone's mouth in Southern California.
The Rams' 2017 season saw the Rams return to the playoffs. It slowly began to feel like LA was a football town.
Then, the 2018 season saw the Rams go 13-3 and go to the Super Bowl. The Chargers went 12-4 and went to the Divisional Round. LA football began to feel more real and alive. The Rams' lackluster display in the Super Bowl did turn down the hype, but that in a way proved football was back because disappointment existed. Still though, the Chargers and Rams both suffered from a lack of home fans and a stadium. There were many issues. And 2019 was not good for either team as both teams missed the playoffs.
2020 brought SoFi Stadium to LA! It began to feel even more real. Except, COVID-19 soon struck the world and then, everything felt different. No fans could go to the Rams or Chargers game, and thus, once again, it felt like the NFL was so far away. Another year with LA football fans not being able to experience NFL football.
But, finally, 2021 brought fans to the Rams and Chargers new LA home. The Rams had already been in their new uniforms that were the classic LA Rams royal blue and sol gold/yellow since 2020. Both teams started off well. The Chargers were 4-1 before their season started going the wrong way. The Chargers missed out on the playoffs in their last regular-season game, going 9-8. The Rams started off 7-1 before a 3 game slid, and then finished 12-5.
Things really started to feel real during this 2021 season! The radio stations were all about whether the Rams or Chargers would make the playoffs and where they would finish. The newspapers were full of Monday morning quarterbacks. Everything was about the Rams and Chargers. And they had their new mega-expensive NFL stadium!
The Rams win over the Cardinals was important, but their win over the defending Super Bowl Champions and Tom Brady-led Buccaneers cemented #RamsHouse across the area. Now everyone knew the Super Bowl was possible. This made LA's run legit too because the Rams defeated the best.
The Rams win over the 49ers displayed the LA-Bay Area rivalry on the NFC Championship stage, and proved the Rams could defeat the 49ers. This was huge for Rams fans for cementing their control on the LA Area.
The lead-up to the Super Bowl brought football to life all over the area. And Super Bowl Sunday brought LA together to cheer on the Rams. It was extra special because the Super Bowl was in LA! This made LA Football a known commodity to not just LA, but the whole world! And tons of football events took place all over the metro region. Football was very much back and was never more exciting!
The Rams' Super Bowl Victory in the final two minutes of play brought about a perfect Hollywood ending to the Rams' 2021-2022 season. LA not only had a NFL team and stadium, but also hosted the Super Bowl, had a Super Bowl Champion, and even a Super Bowl Victory parade!
The parade was extra special because it continued the celebration that started on Sunday night to Wednesday giving the Rams extra time on the front pages of all the newspapers and extra air time on all the stations. NFL was undoubtedly in LA now as there is nothing more LA could have. The Rams and SoFi Stadium have brought the best of what the NFL has to offer to LA! Football feels very real in Los Angeles now!
It is true the Super Bowl has and will not make everything in LA football positive. In 2020, LA lost their only NCAA Division 2 football team, Azusa Pacific. The 3 million-plus Orange County still has no NCAA football besides the Chapman University Panthers in Division 3. And storied programs like Cal State Fullerton and Long Beach State, and less storied programs of the past like Cal State Northridge are still without teams.
Nevertheless, this win has made LA feel the ultimate feeling there is to feel in football, which will most likely increase the amount of youth football players, and who knows, maybe more LA universities will sponsor football too to give more LA football players a chance to play at the highest levels.
LA may still be a Dodgers' or Lakers' or even a Kings' town. But, the Rams' Super Bowl Victory has put professional football at the forefront of LA sports. It brought the best atmosphere and most exhilarating style of finish in all of sports to LA, a Super Bowl-winning touchdown drive. Places from Philippe's (Philippe the Original) to the Hollywood Sign were decked out for the Rams!
The City Hall was lit in Rams colors. As the City of Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said, "The NFL needed L.A., and L.A. needed the NFL...[and] it was our destiny to come back together." Football was already big in Los Angeles and it just got exponentially bigger. There will be many more Rams and Chargers fans in the near future, with hopefully more high-level LA football teams, and they will have this Super Bowl to thank.
Cole Kinder is a former UCLA Bruins running back who grew up playing football in the Los Angeles Metropolitan Region with no NFL football until his last year of high school. He has become an avid writer in my last two years of high school and into my college years.
He writes about all sorts of sports from football to our other main sports in the USA to soccer and to more odd sports like Gaelic football and Australian Rules Football. If there is a sport, he probably has or will write about it.