I don’t have anything to say about the sorry-ass Cowboys, who Saturday night produced one of the classic meltdowns of the Jason Garrett “era.”
I do have something to say about my experience at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. It was incredible. I was part of one of those weird, nervy, borderline lawless wrestling-style crowds where you feel like everyone is in it together, even as they’re trying to fight each other. Long after I drag Cowboys-Rams (which Los Angeles won, 30-22) into my mental recycling bin, I’ll still think about the magic of the night.
First off, I missed my uncle, Rod. He’s a Cowboys season-ticket holder, and we went to last week’s game against the Seahawks together. Rod and I have our rituals down pat. If the Cowboys are trailing at halftime, we switch seats and drink a Cowboyrita (pink-and-yellow-swirl variety). If the Cowboys are leading at halftime, we don’t switch seats. We still drink the Cowboyrita.
Last week, as we were driving to the tailgate in Arlington, Rod was coughing like he was going to die. He said he had allergies. He vowed not to drink any beer at the tailgate. After we parked, Rod took a single sip of Bud Light. The change that came over his face was like a combination of Popeye and Benjamin Button. Rod began smiling from ear to ear, and he didn’t cough for the next four hours. Other than Dak Prescott’s scramble on third-and-14, it was the play of the game.
Rod couldn’t find a dog-sitter this week, so I had to go to Cowboys-Rams solo. I got off the freeway and turned onto Figueroa Street. On Figueroa, there’s a series of places that offer semiofficial Coliseum parking: fix-it shops, strip malls, driveways. I rolled down my window and asked the first lot attendant how much a space cost. He said $150. The second lot had a sign saying spaces cost $100. I drove a few more blocks and found a lady who said she was charging $80, and that included a gated lot and a private security man. I figured that was a good deal.
The Coliseum is the Rams’ temporary stadium until they build a new one in Inglewood. It is miraculous, because it feels like something organic has accidentally happened within the corporate NFL. There are religious people right outside the main gate yelling, “Unbelievers and atheists, hell awaits you!” A Rams fan who sounded like he’d had a number of Cowboyritas was pointing at a large man ahead of us. “That’s Jackie Slater from the Rams, bro,” the fan said, a touch of awe in his voice. “Jackie Slater the defensive end—oh my God.” (Slater was famously an offensive tackle.)
Sometimes you read an article about a faraway tragedy in which hundreds of people are trampled and you think, “How could that happen?” The Coliseum is how it could happen. When I got to Gate 28, there was a human mass about 30 people deep and 50 people wide pushing its way into the stadium. Inside, a bunch of us shoved our way into the men’s room, and then, our business concluded, realized we had to shove our way out. As a unit, we had more of a push than the Cowboys’ defensive line had all night.
Tens of thousands of Cowboys fans showed up at the Coliseum on Saturday night. This is typical. At home games, you’re struck by Cowboys fans’ quietness and general lameness. On the road, you’re struck by their sheer numbers and animal loyalty. I asked somebody in the men’s room what percentage of the crowd he thought would be made up of Cowboys fans. “Seventy percent,” the guy said. “Maybe 80.”
When I got to my seat, it was clear it wasn’t quite that much. It was more like 60 percent Cowboys fans. Rams fans showed up on the later side and were pretty mild. Cowboys fans—and this will come as a big shocker—shot their wad during the pregame. It was the first time I’ve ever heard an NFL home team booed during the player introductions.
The Coliseum crowd reminded me of the wrestling crowds I was a part of in the ’80s—in the company, as it happened, of the very same Uncle Rod. The Coliseum has long rows of seats that are inaccessible to any kind of authority, so just about anything goes. There was a guy dressed as Marshawn Lynch, including the helmet and visor, who chanted “Let’s go Raiders” for the entire game. There were fights.
When a huge American flag was stretched across the field for “The Star-Spangled Banner,” a guy leaped out of the stands and ran under it. When the flag was rolled up after the song, we caught a glimpse of the scofflaw. He was an older man with a shock of white hair—almost a stockier Doc Brown from Back to the Future. He was looking at the sky yelling as the cops dragged him away.
You probably know the gist of the game. The Cowboys took a 7-3 lead, then stood by as the Rams played the Cowboys’ own trademark style of ball control. The Rams led by 13 at halftime.
I glumly thought of the Cowboyrita (or Rams equivalent) that my uncle and I would have been searching for at halftime before we executed our patented seat switch. I needn’t have worried. Because the truly amazing thing about the Coliseum is that people smoke pot in the stands.
I’m not saying you catch a whiff of pot at the Coliseum. I’m saying that, last night, Section 26L was like sticking your head in a pot campfire. It was amazing! Think about it: When was the last time you saw anyone smoke anything in the stands at a pro sporting event? At antiseptic AT&T Stadium, you feel like you’d be tackled by cops if you thought about cigarettes. At the Coliseum, everyone just lit up—joints, cigars, everything. By the end of French Montana’s halftime performance, I felt like I’d had about five Cowboyritas.
The Cowboys woke up in the third quarter and eventually cut the Rams’ lead to eight. Cowboys fans—and this will come as another big shocker—forgot about the previous quarter-plus and started trolling the Rams fans. Probably because of our collective contact high, the trolling didn’t make a ton of sense. “Ground and pound!” a Cowboys fan next to me yelled. “Ground and pound!” This was when the Cowboys were trailing by 15 with under four minutes left.
The end of the game was appropriately messy. A Cowboys fan sitting on the aisle decided to try to fight his way out of the Coliseum. By the time I found him, his friends had mostly pacified him. A guy wearing a Jason Witten jersey was (of course) playing the role of peacemaker. You are what you wear.
To get out of Section 26L, I had to descend a set of steep, slick stairs—another sign the Rams are focusing their occupational safety energies on the new stadium. I maneuvered around taunting Rams fans and picked up my car on Figueroa. I called my uncle on the drive home. We spent 10 minutes bitching about the Cowboys, and twice that re-creating how magical the stands were. I didn’t say this to him outright, but the reason I wanted to tell him everything that happened was because I wished he’d been there. My uncle would have appreciated the mise-en-scène. There are some things even the NFL can’t screw up.