LOS ANGELES — Is this really happening?
In the shadow of the Coliseum, where the Rams have not played a playoff game in 39 seasons, the most devoted of diehards, dressed in their throwback yellow and blues, can’t help but smile and wonder. A year ago, a playoff berth was no more than an impossible dream.
But that feels like an eternity ago now, as a surreal celebration is underway on the blacktop of Lot 2. Music is blaring. The smell of barbecue is in the air. The beer is flowing, selfies are being snapped, and the mood is electric. Strangers pass and toast red cups, flashing the same stunned look. How did we get here? They all seem to wonder.
The euphoria will wear off in the hours to come, as the Rams’ comeback efforts fell short against the Falcons, their playoff party ending after just one wild night. But even the wildest of optimists in Lot 2 will admit, long before the result is final, that they never expected to be here at all. Not only did the Rams return to the postseason, where the franchise hadn’t been since 2004, they hosted a playoff game in Southern California for the first time since Jan. 4, 1986.
That day, the Rams shut out the Cowboys, 20-0, in Anaheim. Three weeks later, Sean McVay, the wunderkind coach behind the Rams’ revival, was born.
Mark Millsap was in the Anaheim Stadium stands for that final playoff game in the Southland. He wore an Eric Dickerson jersey and watched as the Rams back tore through the Dallas defense for 248 yards. Eight years later, when the Rams moved to St. Louis, Millsap drew a red line through the middle of that jersey in a fit of rage.
He never imagined then that they might return. But 32 years later, Millsap stood on the blacktop in a hard hat outfitted with Rams horns, wearing the jersey of Dickerson’s heir apparent, Todd Gurley. As the party carries on around him, he turns to his son, Mark, who, like the Rams coach, wasn’t born the last time the Rams played a playoff game in Southern California. Now, though, father and son are together amid this euphoric sea of Rams jerseys, and Millsap can’t help but wonder if the decades of exile were all leading to this.
“I think it was meant to be,” Millsap says.“I was thinking about that today. If they would’ve never left, we wouldn’t have Sean McVay. Everything would be different. It all fell into place. It came full circle.”
Here, at this tailgate, there’s plenty of talk of destiny. It’s the only explanation that seems to justify…