LOS ANGELES -– Know where you belong. Yes, St. Louis may have been an ample Rams home for the last 22 years. But L.A. is where the Rams belong.
That was the message from a huge core of the 91,046 sun-drenched fans on Sunday in the L.A. Coliseum. They made it clear that time and distance did not negate their truth; this is their team and this is their home.
It was not a welcome back game.
It was a welcome home game.
It was astonishing, really, how the Rams fans were so forgiving and so juiced in the Coliseum over the return of pro football and this Rams homecoming. People were lifting their arms to the skies, praying in critical moments. Fans were often surging in the rich, deep bowl of a stadium. It was loud. Strangers embraced all over the place when the Rams won.
"Ramily," they called it.
The Rams have toiled in mediocrity in recent seasons and even opened this one with a feeble 28-0 loss at the San Francisco 49ers. But against the Seattle Seahawks, they embraced what this first game back meant, how interlocking with this L.A. fan base it had to be and how a good first step was critical to building momentum in their L.A. return.
They mastered the script, beating Seattle 9-3. The Seattle defense was good but the Rams defense surpassed it. It was throwback football in the Rams’ throwback royal blue and yellow jerseys in a throwback place that all signaled a new day.
"When I look at the way we were received today, it was heartwarming," Rams owner Stan Kroenke said, enjoying the moment afterward with family and friends in a stadium tunnel near the Rams locker room. "We did all the things we could do to bring this team back. The data showed we would be their favorite for an NFL team to come to L.A. They showed that today. They stuck with us and helped us get this win today."
A victory Rams general manager Les Snead hopes ignites their season.
"It’s a little early to talk must-win games," Snead said. "You really do want to win in this first game back with everything going on and for all of these people and this relationship. I don’t like saying must-win games."
He winked before continuing, "But it was a game we had to win."
It was opening day relief as much as joy for Kroenke, Snead, head coach Jeff Fisher, and all of the Rams. This is Hollywood. Nobody wants to fall off the stage, forget the lines, shrink under the lights.
Linebacker Alec Ogletree ensured the Rams were center stage.
Ogletree started fast and played faster. He was in the backfield, stout in run defense, a nuisance in pass coverage; he was everywhere hitting Seahawks hard. He saved his best hit for last, a roaming, feel-for-it play in pass coverage where he was not supposed to be in the Rams scheme. But his ad-lib put him in the perfect spot to roast Seahawks running back Christine Michael after Michael’s catch. Michael fumbled. Ogletree recovered it. A force and recovery by Ogletree at the L.A. 29-yard line with 45 seconds left.
Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson had just launched a 53-yard connection to receiver Tyler Lockett. The Seahawks were driving. A game-winning touchdown in the closing seconds looked plausible.
But Ogletree made sure this L.A. connection on this first game day would not be broken.
Then he ran toward the stands and made another connection, giving the ball to his parents, Al and Allyson, to his wife, Alex, while remembering Austin, his 8-month-old son.
"It is an amazing feeling, a historical moment for us," Ogletree said. "I gave the ball to my family, but the whole stadium treated us like family today. Getting a turnover like that is the best play in football for a defensive guy. We take great pride in lining up and playing ball against Seattle."
Indeed, they do, because the Rams have won three straight and four of the last five against the Seahawks. We are talking an inconsistent team beating a Super Bowl-caliber team in recent regularity.
Seattle coach Pete Carroll, who used to roam the Coliseum sidelines as USC head coach, is perplexed over the Rams’ edge: "If I did, it wouldn’t have happened," he said, when asked if he knew why.
Safety Earl Thomas took a crack:
"We are divisional rivals. We know this team. They know us. They seem to always have a gadget, a screen, something unusual happens that turns the game for them. And if not that, something else crazy always happens in these games, like that fumble at the end when we were driving to win; that’s not something we do. Our defense had multiple pass interference calls that hurt us. We get a sack late in the game and that is taken away by a facemask on it. So, we’ll just have to focus even harder in these games with them. I will say this atmosphere here today was great. The fans were on fire."
All game long, Fisher said.
Enough to help boost the Rams in this relationship, to avoid an 0-2 start.
Even Seattle acknowledged the game’s significance.
"It was a great crowd, a lot of people," Wilson said. "A great day for the National Football League."
Some people on Sunday in St. Louis, no doubt, felt a twinge of heartache.
But people in L.A. saw only a prodigal franchise returning.