What’s the best place to catch an NFL game right now? It sounds like a trick question: On an Eastern European streaming site, while reading TweetDeck ... I’d argue the correct answer is the L.A. Coliseum, the rickety, temporary home of the Rams. As evidence, let me tell you what I saw when the Rams played the Cowboys on Saturday night.
The first thing to like about the Coliseum is that it’s the rare pro stadium that exists in a neighborhood rather than a parking lot. On Saturday, I exited the 110 freeway, turned right, and drove about four blocks. A man and a woman waved me into an office parking lot. The woman directed me into a space that said “Tow Away Zone.”
“I’m not going to get towed, am I?” I asked as I handed over 20 bucks.
“Don’t worry,” the woman said. “We’ll stay with your car all night.” That wasn’t a “no,” but close enough.
I walked east on 39th Street. I passed homeless tent cities and a 60ish man pushing an ice cream cart with a bell on it. The street was filled with enough fans in Cowboys jerseys that if you added a few 7-Elevens it could have been Arlington. I made a list of the Cowboys jerseys I saw before spotting my first Rams jersey: Dak, Dez, Zeke, Aikman, Zeke, Dak, Morris Claiborne, Witten, Romo, Ware, and Dak (the last with pink numbers). Only then did I see a Todd Gurley.
The Coliseum’s second redeeming feature is that it strips away the icy, dictatorial order you usually encounter at an NFL stadium. Last year, my pal Matt and I joined 89,000 other people at the Cowboys-Rams preseason game that marked the return of pro football to L.A. “You mean the night we were unorganized and ran out of water?” one Coliseum security guard asked me Saturday, when I reminded her of the marvelous chaos that ensued.
I have two indelible memories of last year’s game. The first came in the stands. When Matt and I sat in our seats near the 50, we sniffed the air, looked at each other, and said, “Is that pot?” The smell was stronger in the fourth quarter than it was in the first. The second memory came after the game, when the Coliseum was overrun with a churning mass of humanity trying to squeeze through the exits and Matt and I came face-to-face with a terrified Michael Irvin.
A terrified Michael Irvin tries to leave the Coliseum. pic.twitter.com/Hewi1cl6qO— Bryan Curtis (@bryancurtis) August 14, 2016
If you’ve never been to the Coliseum, you may not be aware of its lack of basic features. It has no upper deck. On Saturday, the usher looked at my ticket, noted I was sitting on Row 76, and pointed up a flight of steps toward what looked like the summit of Kilimanjaro. On Row 76, I sat on a wooden bench with the seat numbers carved into the back. The bench was once red, but now it had the sun-scorched salmon color of a bench you see in a city park or at a highway rest stop.
The Coliseum will host the Rams for three more seasons until construction is finished on the Rams’ new stadium in Inglewood. (An extra year was added to the stay after construction delays.) This is the period when the Coliseum will be the most interesting stadium in America, because you can watch a fan base wrap its collective mind around a new-old team in real time.
The Rams desperately want L.A. to love them. Last season, they hired a PA man, Sam Lagana, who uses a booming, overwrought voice to sell an unappealing product. “Your Los Angeles Rams are coached by MR. SEAN MCVAY!” he yelled Saturday. He sounded like the late Rod Roddy hawking ant killer on the old The Price Is Right.
In the first half on Saturday, when the stadium’s videoboard asked, “Whose House?” only a few people answered, “Rams House!” As we’ll see, the reaction would be different as the game wore on.
In the stands, you can spot a few Rams old-timers in Jack Youngblood jerseys who’ve returned to the team’s fold. When Pharoh Cooper makes a catch (he has 14 in his NFL career), fans chant, “Coooop!” But I still remember the opener last year, when Rams old-timers were outnumbered by trolls in Raiders jerseys who showed up at the Coliseum screaming, “The Raiders are back!”
Where else in sports can you see fans forgiving their favorite team live? Or not, in some cases. On Saturday, the video board showed a tribute to Jerry Jones, who just got into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Jones was instrumental in moving the Rams to L.A. At the end of tribute, everybody stood up and made noise—call it 70 percent cheers.
In the second quarter, the video board showed a tribute to Kurt Warner, who helped the Rams’ franchise win their one and only Super Bowl title. The Coliseum greeted that tribute with dead silence. Who’s Kurt Warner? I dunno. Some guy who played in St. Louis.
If the Coliseum lacks an upper deck, it also lacks a true undercarriage—the warren of tunnels and bathrooms and foodstands that lies under most stadiums. For eating, this has proved to be a godsend. The best personnel move the Rams made since drafting Aaron Donald is outsourcing their concessions to an army of independent food sellers who set up stands and even food trucks outside the stadium.
Walk around the exterior of the Coliseum and you find signs that are oddly specific (“Tacos, Burritos, and Carne Asada Tater Tots”). This is L.A., so the vendors’ names are achingly twee: Cheezus Designer Grilled Cheese Sandwiches, say, or Lobsterdamus. Before Saturday, I was morally opposed to serving hipster food at a stadium. By the time I wolfed down a Kobe beef melt and chased it with a four-pack from Randy’s Donuts, I had gratefully converted. By the way, Randy’s also has two beers on draft.
I grazed inside a circle of food trucks parked under the old Olympic torch. It was a breezy night, and the palm trees around the stadium shook from side to side as they do in Jurassic Park. Inside the stadium, I could hear Lagana, the PA man, madly trying to get the crowd hyped up: “Here we go with the second half! Rams 7, Cowboys 3. Arrrrre you ready?!” I was ready for another doughnut.
On the asphalt track that circles the Coliseum, at least during the preseason, it’s possible to meet the kind of eccentrics you find on Hollywood Boulevard or in Venice Beach. I met a Zeke Elliott impersonator, who performed Elliott’s “Feed me!” bit as soon as I pulled out my camera. A few Raiders trolls were still lurking about with impish smiles. The coolest jersey on sale at the merch stands wasn’t Jared Goff’s but Irwin M. Fletcher’s.
The most desirable jersey for sale at the Coliseum, by a mile. pic.twitter.com/p4L944P92Z— Bryan Curtis (@bryancurtis) August 13, 2017
By the time I made the ascent back to my seat for the fourth quarter, the sun had disappeared behind the grandstand. At JerryWorld or any other new stadium, the stands are so brightly lit that you feel like you’re sitting in an operating room. At the Coliseum, I glanced at the note paper I held in my hands and saw that it was bathed in shadow. Shadow! In the age of the modern mega-stadium, that counts as a design feature. In the Coliseum, you sit in darkness and look at a field that’s fully lit. It’s more like watching boxing than pro football.
With the clock ticking down and the Rams up by three, the fans that had hung around decided to get into the game. When a pass was broken up by Michael Jordan (a second-year DB out of Missouri Western State), everyone went nuts.
“The GOAT!” someone behind me said.
“Whose House?” the video board asked.
“Rams House!” the crowd yelled, louder this time.
The Cowboys had the ball. It was third-and-short. The errant snap got by third-stringer Luke McCown, and the Rams recovered the ball in a dog pile near midfield. Every Rams fan in that place celebrated. It might be the best thing to happen to the team all year.
We probably underrate temporary stadiums. A decade ago, I spent a great afternoon watching the Washington Nationals amid empty seats at RFK. I wish I’d seen the Oilers’ one season at the Liberty Bowl and the Vikings’ cameo at the University of Minnesota. Such a visit isn’t liable to produce grand, tell-your-kids-about-it history, but it is liable to produce weird, tell-your-sports-friends-about-it history. Between heaven and a seat bond is a temporary stadium.
After the game, I walked back down 39th Street to my car. The couple that sold me the parking spot were still standing sentry, just like they promised. My last image of the Coliseum was a heavyset Rams fan in an Aaron Donald jersey who was screaming at no one in particular as the clock ticked down. “You people think this is Texas?” he was shouting. “This is L.A.! This is RAMS HOUSE!” So it is, for three more years. Every thinking NFL fan ought to get here immediately.