A year ago, this was only a pipe dream.
The NFL’s first season back in Los Angeles, after 22 years in exile, had been a disaster. The Rams scraped together just four wins. Their coach was fired, their stadium was half-empty. A home playoff game in Los Angeles seemed as distant as it had the previous two decades, when L.A. had no team at all.
But on Sunday, as a meaningless game was played at the Coliseum, a celebration no one in their right mind would’ve predicted raged on, nonetheless. A banner hung near the entrance of Lot 2, where the most diehard of Rams fans tailgated since last season. Fans danced in front of it, toasting Bud Lites as Snoop Dogg played on the boombox. “NFC West Division Champions,” the banner read.
If you hadn’t watched the Rams’ stunning turnaround from its start, you might not have believed what you saw. But indeed, it had been true for more than a week by then, a seemingly impossible dream realized.
The Los Angeles Rams are bound for the NFL playoffs.
On Saturday, they’ll host the Falcons in a home playoff game at the Coliseum, where an NFL playoff game hasn’t been played in 24 years. Atlanta, the reigning NFC champion, have won six of its last eight with their only two losses coming against fellow NFC playoff teams.
“The game of our life is next week,” said Rams guard Rodger Saffold, who, like a generation of Angelenos, will see the playoffs for the first time on Saturday.
Across town, the city’s newest NFL franchise had just finished one of their best games of season. The Chargers absolutely dominated the Raiders, who were so dismayed after that they fired Jack Del Rio, their coach, before the postgame news conference. The victory was the last case the Chargers could make for a playoff spot, and it was a convincing one.
In a stadium filled with Raider fans, days after the Raiders took out full-page ads in every L.A. newspaper to announce their presence, it was the Chargers who made a bold statement on Sunday. But it wasn’t enough. They needed the Titans to lose. They needed the Ravens to win. Neither came to fruition.
The Chargers may very well be the third-best team in the AFC, but this year, there will be no chance to prove it in the postseason. They finished the season with nine wins over their last 12 games, but it was the winless first month in their first year in Los Angeles that ultimately sunk them. Only one NFL team had ever climbed out of such a deep hole.
“Close,” safety Tre Boston…