LA Rams play in front of a SoFi crowd for the first time – Daily News

Sammy Reyes stood under a popup canopy in the parking lot of Inglewood’s SoFi Stadium Sunday afternoon, Sept. 12, and took stock of the party that surrounded him.

Reyes is from East L.A. But despite the miles he traveled to get there, Reyes, a lifelong Rams fan, didn’t feel like a visitor.

“It’s home,” he said.

Reyes joined thousands of other football fans in converging on SoFi on this late summer day to celebrate the first Los Angeles Rams game of the 2021-22 NFL season.

But it was more than that.

It was, in a way, a homecoming. And a long-awaited one at that.

The regular season kick-off between the Rams and the visiting Chicago Bears marked the second campaign the Los Angeles football team has played in in SoFi, a 70,000-seat, technologically marvelous stadium years in the making. Last season, however, was played without fans because of the coronavirus pandemic.

But those fans, many of whom stuck with the franchise through relocation after relocation — LA to Anaheim to St. Louis and back to LA — finally got a chance to be with their team. And root for them in person.

And they partied. Or rather, tailgated. Hip hop and mariachi music created a cacophony. The aroma of barbecue filled the parking lot. Smartphones put in overtime taking photos of the moment.

“They finally came home,” said Joe E. Hernandez, of Whittier.  “It’s like when you find someone you love, and then they leave but then come back. You know it was meant to be.”

Sunday’s game was a long time coming.

It had a direct lineage back to at least to 2013, when St. Louis Rams owner and Chairman Stan Kroenke met with Inglewood Mayor James Butts. The meeting was supposed to last 15 minutes. Instead, they huddled for two-and-a-half hours, plotting “an action plan” to make a stadium happen.

The Rams returned to Los Angeles in 2016, taking up temporary residence in their old stomping grounds, the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

And plans moved forward for a $5 billion project that officials say is transforming a city that just nine years ago was on the verge of bankruptcy. SoFi, on the former Hollywood Park racetrack property not far from LAX, is part of a larger 298-acre sports and entertainment destination being developed.

The stadium normally sits about 70,000 — the Rams sold 70,455 tickets for Sunday — but can expand to 100,000. A 70,000-square-foot video board — a dual-sided techno-marvel — seems to float over the field.

The Rolling Stones play here in October.

But the stadium, as the fans would say, is the Rams’ house.

As the 5:20 p.m. start time neared, fans slowly left the parking lot and went inside their new cathedral. And even those wearing the wrong colors were impressed.

“It’s awesome,” said John Dyer, from Chicago. He attended the game with his son and his brother, Kevin Dyer. Kevin Dyer’s reaction was similar:


The cheer and reverence inside and outside SoFi was a stark difference from the surreal 2020 season.

Last year was supposed to be the Rams homecoming. And they did play in SoFi.

But county health orders designed to prevent the spread of the coronavirus kept fans away. The seats were empty, except for fan cutouts on both ends of the field. The team’s first home game also opened amid historic social unrest in the nation, and in L.A., where the outcry against racism was seen on the field, with several players taking a knee during the national anthem.

The coronavirus is still around, causing some health orders — such as masking — to return.

But that didn’t seem to dampen spirits.

In the parking lot, fans played catch. They drank and played games. They played drinking games. They chanted.

“Whether we’re masked or not,” said Palm Springs resident John White, “we’re going to show up.”

There was some grumbling, however.

Long lines of vehicles filled the narrow thoroughfares into the stadium’s lots, with fans complaining about hour-plus-long waits on surrounding streets just get into SoFi once they arrived off local freeways. Those gameday complaints about echoed preseason rumblings over traffic, spotty WiFi and the need for more concession offerings — something the Rams said they would work to improve.

Still, the frustration was countered with the angst of youngsters and old-timers wanting to see stars like quarterback Matthew Stafford and cornerback Darious Williams perform.

Finally, inside the packed stadium, the game got underway — and thousands cheered for the Rams.

The Rams scored early when quarterback Matthew Stafford hit Van Jefferson for a 67-yard touchdown — the Rams’ longest pass completion since 2018.

Sandra Marie Ramirez said her dad,  Manuel Ignacio Valle, would have pleased.

Ramirez’s father, an El Monte resident and lifelong rams fan, died last year.

So his daughter came from Las Vegas to be at Sunday’s game for him.

“My heart is for my dad,” she said.

As the fourth quarter wound down, the Rams had a comfortable lead.

The Rams have seven more games at SoFi this season, not counting the playoffs.

That’s seven more chances for their fans to come home.

At last.

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