LOS ANGELES — When the Rams poured down the tunnel in their blue-and-yellow-gold vintage uniforms and emerged in the 90-degree California sunshine, a sold-out Coliseum crowd loosed a long-suppressed Sunday scream.
After two decades of fan frustration and a year of anticipation building to this regular-season home opener, Los Angeles really, truly had pro football again.
“That was really, really cool,” Rams quarterback Case Keenum said. “I made sure, in the tunnel and as I’m running out, just to look around, to savor that moment and remember it. I’m going to write stuff down, because I want to remember that forever.”
And since this is LA, the cathartic moment came with a West Coast touch: The Rams entered the stadium with Red Hot Chili Peppers frontman Anthony Kiedis, shirtless in yellow uniform pants, yelling their introductions to the crowd.
The Rams hadn’t played a football game that mattered in Southern California since Dec. 24, 1994, when they left Angel Stadium in Anaheim and moved to St. Louis.
Returning in front of 91,046 fans ardently hoping this Hollywood sequel is better than the original, the Rams beat the Seattle Seahawks 9-3 in a game that made up for its tepid offensive performances with a thrilling late defensive stand by the home team, capped with a fumble recovery by middle linebacker Alec Ogletree.
“Those fans did an amazing job keeping us going,” Rams defensive end William Hayes said. “I can’t lie to you, I didn’t know it was going to be loud like that. It was so hot, but I couldn’t even think about the heat with because they were so into the game.”
Not many pro sports franchises would choose their first game in a new hometown to wear vintage uniforms, but the Rams aren’t the normal new kids on any block.
The jerseys aren’t the only throwbacks being sold this season by the Rams, who are rekindling the love of the nation’s second-largest city for a sport and a team returning from 21 seasons away.
The Rams are still three years away from moving into their billion-dollar new home in Inglewood, and any LA fan with a television probably knows they haven’t had a winning season since 2003.
If nostalgia is a big part of what these Rams are selling, they’re in the perfect stadium for it now: The packed Coliseum was their home for their first 34 years in LA, and the venerable home of the first Super Bowl was rocking once again.
The tailgate parties began at dawn. West Coast rap and grilled meat aromas drifted among the fans gathered in the nearby parking lots and neighborhoods for a ritual confined to college games in LA for the past 21 years.
USC fans have kept the Coliseum busy on fall Saturdays, but the Trojans — particularly their struggling teams of the past half-decade — don’t command the same passion in a town that lives for the biggest events on the grandest stages.
Fans packed into the rows of seats near the famed Coliseum tunnel two hours before kickoff, cheering wildly for the Rams taking the field for warmups and booing the Seahawks — even Richard Sherman, the star cornerback who grew up just a few miles away in Compton.
The Rams hadn’t played a real game in the Coliseum since a loss to New Orleans on Dec. 16, 1979. That Rams team still rallied for two road playoff wins to make the franchise’s only Super Bowl during its Southern California era.
They spent the next 15 years playing in Anaheim before steadily diminishing crowds. Although Eric Dickerson created excitement with his record rushing season, the Rams lost some fan devotion in Los Angeles to the Raiders.
They’re all back now, eager to make new memories. Dickerson, the Rams’ greatest star of their Anaheim era, was surrounded by a crowd of bubbling fans as he walked around the concourse before the game. After the Chili Peppers’ show, six Hall of Famers — Dickerson, Jack Youngblood, Orlando Pace, Marshall Faulk, Jackie Slater and Tom Mack — gathered on the famed peristyle end of the Coliseum for a ceremonial lighting of the Olympic torch.
After CeeLo Green sang the national anthem, the showbiz festivities continued during the game: Late-night talk show host James Corden performed with the Rams’ cheerleaders between quarters, his gut protruding rudely from his uniform.
The crowd included Magic Johnson, several current Los Angeles Lakers and several more Los Angeles Kings. Even LeBron James watched with approval on the sideline — while fans chanted “Kobe! Kobe!”
By the time Ogletree jumped on Christine Michael’s fumble to seal a win without a touchdown, scarcely anyone had left the Coliseum in a town infamous for its fans’ late arrivals and early exits.
“The fans were incredible,” Los Angeles native Jeff Fisher said. “They made it a tough place to play. They’ve been great since Day One of this thing.”