The Super Bowl Report: Rams are confident in their approach to success
Howdy, I’m your host, Houston Mitchell. Let’s get right to the news.
Gary Klein on the Rams: The Rams’ star power will be on full display Sunday when they play the Cincinnati Bengals in Super Bowl LVI at SoFi Stadium.
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Rams general manager Les Snead made sure of that by avidly collecting multiple high-profile players before, during and after the regular season.
In January 2021, Snead pulled off a blockbuster trade for star quarterback Matthew Stafford. Midway through the season, he traded for star outside linebacker Von Miller and signed star receiver Odell Beckham Jr. And on the eve of the playoffs, he helped coax star safety Eric Weddle out of retirement.
Despite going all-in to fulfill a mandate to play in the Super Bowl in owner Stan Kroenke’s $5-billion stadium, Snead said Wednesday that it was a “shallow story” to focus solely on the stars.
“I get it,” he said. “We’re in the entertainment business, and so I understand why that’s interesting.”
The Rams have received solid contributions from many less celebrated players they drafted or traded for and others they signed as undrafted free agents, players “being their best when their best was required,” Snead said, quoting coach Sean McVay.
But the Rams, much like the Dodgers and the New York Yankees under former owner George Steinbrenner, spared no expense to ensure that Kroenke could bask in hosting a Super Bowl in his palace.
In the Rams’ case, much of the cost was draft picks, including multiple first-round draft picks. The Rams have not selected a player in the first round since 2016, when they moved up 14 spots to select quarterback Jared Goff with the No. 1 pick. Since then, they have traded two first-round picks for star safety Jalen Ramsey in 2019, and two more for Stafford.
The Rams do not have a first-round pick until 2024.
That makes the first night of the NFL draft, “not stressful at all, right?” quipped Snead, who was hired in 2012. “We can actually have fun not having [No.] ones.”
Kevin Demoff, the Rams’ chief operating officer, said the Rams’ formula was producing success.
“Maybe that’s not for everybody and maybe it’s not sustainable,” Demoff said of the team’s approach. “Maybe it doesn’t work long term — we seem to figure that out every year — but it’s working right now.”
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RAMS ARE L.A.’s FAVORITE NFL TEAM
J. Brady McCollough on the Rams: Super Bowl week has provided a natural period of reflection for the Rams executives who moved the team from St. Louis back to Los Angeles in 2016.
“If you were born in Los Angeles after 1995, you did not grow up with a team,” Rams chief operating officer Kevin Demoff said Monday. “If you moved to Los Angeles from another city after 1995, there was no team, so you probably kept your previous team. So now you have people who have moved here, generations who grew up here, and you all have this team. It’s something to rally behind.
“When you see the jerseys, the excitement, the car flags, you walk into a grocery store and see the displays for the big game and the Rams logo, it’s a great sense of pride for our organization. But it’s a reminder of how much work we have to do to continue to grow the next generation.”
An L.A. Times/SurveyMonkey poll conducted Feb. 1-7 among a national sample of 7,590 adults, including 1,659 Californians and 743 people who live in the Greater Los Angeles Area, confirmed Demoff’s anecdotal intuition — the Rams appear to have taken over L.A., yet there is plenty of work to do.
The Rams are the most popular pro football team in L.A., with 26% of L.A.-area residents choosing the Rams as their favorite team. The Chargers have more work to do, with 5% of those polled calling the San Francisco 49ers, the Dallas Cowboys, the Las Vegas Raiders or the Chargers their favorite team.
As with all polls, the results are subject to sampling error. But there’s a big enough gap between the Rams and their competitors to know something tangible has been accomplished along the team’s road to Sunday’s Super Bowl LVI against the Cincinnati Bengals.
91 YEARS OLD AND RAM TOUGH
From Bill Plaschke: Lewis Lazarus would go to the game, but he doesn’t get around so well anymore.
“Three days ago, I started using a cane and it already bugs the hell out me,” he said. “I want to throw that cane in the ocean.”
He would watch the game on television with his immediate family, but his parents have passed, his sister has passed, his son has passed, and he no longer has any living relatives.
“I guess the Rams are the last family I have,” he said.
Like all the most longtime of Los Angeles Rams fans — an ancient and resilient bunch unmatched in this city’s sports landscape — the 91-year-old Lazarus will watch Super Bowl LVI on Sunday between the Rams and Cincinnati Bengals surrounded mostly by memories and dreams.
He wants them to win for all those Sundays he sat in the Coliseum as a teenager and cheered Bob Waterfield and Elroy Hirsch, whom he helped as a Rams training camp ball boy when the team moved here from Cleveland in 1946.
“My favorite was Crazy Legs,” Lazarus said. “He could really move.”
He wants them to win for all those years he took those long Sunday afternoon drives with his mother to the games in Anaheim, one of the few fans who forgave them for moving out of the city of Los Angeles.
“I didn’t care where they played, they were still the Rams,” he said.
DON’T BRING A SWEATER
From Paul Duginski: Anyone just arriving in Southern California for the Super Bowl might be amazed by how warm it is in Southern California this time of year.
And they should be, because this weather is unusual.
From Wednesday through Sunday, when the big game will be played at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, temperatures are expected to be 15 to 20 degrees above average, said Alex Tardy, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in San Diego. Readings will soar to near record levels, coming close to 90 degrees in some places.
Temperatures could be in the 80s in the foothills and the 70s in the mountains. Some wind-prone areas will only cool off to the 60s and 70s overnight.
ROGER GOODELL SPEAKS
Sam Farmer on the NFL: SoFi Stadium loomed large behind Roger Goodell, but the challenges before the NFL commissioner are even bigger.
At his annual state-of-the-league news conference Wednesday, Goodell was peppered with questions about the lack of diversity among head coaches, only two of who are Black.
Last week, former Miami Dolphins coach Brian Flores filed a lawsuit accusing teams of racism in their hiring practices, and alleging Dolphins owner Stephen Ross offered him money to intentionally lose games in order to obtain a better position in the draft.
“We won’t tolerate racism,” Goodell said. “We won’t tolerate discrimination. I found all of the allegations, whether they were based on racism or discrimination or the integrity of our game, all of those to me were very disturbing.
“They are very serious matters to us on all levels, and we need to make sure we get to the bottom of all of them.”
Although he didn’t offer specific solutions, Goodell said the league will explore all avenues to improve the processes in hiring practices, including the possibility of further changes to the Rooney Rule, which requires that minority candidates be interviewed for coaching and executive openings. Approximately 70% of NFL players are Black.
“I think that’s the core of the message that we’ve been talking about here is, ‘OK, we’re not having this success we want with head coaches,’” he said. “How do we evolve that rule, or do we have to have a new rule? Do we need to figure out some other way of being able to achieve that outcome?
“And I think we’re not going to rest until we find that and we get those kind of outcomes that I think are mandatory for us. That just has to be the way we’re going to move forward inclusively.”
SUPER BOWL STRATEGY, PART II
Second of a four-part series looking at strategy for Super Bowl LVI. Part 2: How will the Rams handle quarterback Joe Burrow’s three-wideout set of Ja’Marr Chase, Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd?
From Jeff Miller: With the fifth pick of the 2021 NFL draft, Cincinnati selects …
Back in April, a lot of experts thought the Bengals would go offensive lineman, specifically Penei Sewell.
Instead, they took wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase, bolstering a group that already featured Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd. Nearly 1,500 receiving yards, 13 touchdowns and a Super Bowl berth later, no one is debating the decision to add Chase any longer.
With Joe Burrow as distributor, Cincinnati finished seventh in the NFL in passing offense and eighth in points during the regular season.
The Rams were 22nd in yards passing allowed, but only Buffalo’s No. 1-ranked defense surrendered fewer touchdowns through the air.
In attempting to slow Burrow and his three-pronged wide receiver attack, the Rams counter with Jalen Ramsey, one of the league’s most dynamic defensive backs.
Ramsey already has publicly stated his desire to match up with Chase on every snap, saying, “Of course that’s what I’m asking for.”
It isn’t that easy, though. When Ramsey does defend Chase, cornerbacks Darious Williams (5-foot-9, 187 pounds) and David Long Jr. (5-11, 196) will be left to stop Higgins (6-4, 216) and Boyd (6-2, 203).
“I know those guys have played their butts off all year long,” said DeAngelo Hall, a former cornerback who played 14 NFL seasons. “But, because of the size difference, I don’t like any of those dudes in a one-on-one interaction with either of those receivers.”
Mike DiGiovanna on the Rams: A little visualization can go a long way when you play as seldom as Kendall Blanton, the Rams tight end who spent 2019 and 2020 on the practice squad and played four or fewer snaps in 12 of 20 games this season.
“The coaches always say if you’re in a backup role or further down the depth chart, just get mental reps,” Blanton said in a Wednesday videoconference, when asked how he’s stayed ready despite so few game reps in the past three seasons.
“A lot of working on my own, going over the scripts, if it’s walking through them in my apartment or the parking lot, or having my mom go with me to a middle school where she’s reading off the play calls and we’re walking through them in the grass. Just always trying to be ready for the moment when it comes.”
That moment — the one every undrafted free agent in the NFL dreams of — finally came for Blanton this season, and the 6-foot-6, 262-pounder from Missouri did not shrink from it.
Blanton played eight snaps in a 30-27 divisional-round playoff win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Jan. 23 and scored his first NFL touchdown, a seven-yard catch from Matthew Stafford that gave the Rams a 10-0 lead in the first quarter.
When Tyler Higbee suffered a knee injury in the first quarter of the NFC championship game against San Francisco on Jan. 30, Blanton stepped in and played 61 of 77 snaps, catching five passes for 57 yards in a 20-17 Rams victory.
And with Higbee suffering a sprained knee ligament and looking questionable for Sunday’s Super Bowl, there is a good chance Blanton, 26, will get the start against the Cincinnati Bengals in SoFi Stadium.
“Don’t count Higbee out — he’s a trouper, one of the hardest working and toughest guys I know — so don’t be surprised if you see No. 89 out there making plays,” Blanton said. “But preparing to be a starter, to play a lot, that’s something I’ve always done since my rookie year.
BEST PRO FOOTBALL TEAM TOURNAMENT
Just for fun, over the next two weeks we will be running a tournament to determine the best Super Bowl/NFL/AFL champion of all time. The teams have been seeded 1-64 (using a combination of regular season record, regular season point differential and playoff point differential) and put into four regions, just like the NCAA men’s basketball tournament. Using the Second And Ten computer game, we will run the games to determine the best team of them all. Since there are only 55 Super Bowl winning teams, we chose nine teams from before the Super Bowl era to compete, all champions of either the NFL or the AFL. They are: 1950 Cleveland Browns, 1951 Los Angeles Rams, 1953 Detroit Lions, 1960 Philadelphia Eagles, 1961 Houston Oilers, 1962 Green Bay Packers, 1963 San Diego Chargers, 1963 Chicago Bears and the 1964 Buffalo Bills.
We continue with the semifinals and finals of the Walter Payton region:
No. 1 1985 Chicago Bears d. No. 5 1963 Chicago Bears, 33-14
Walter Payton rushed for 91 yards and a touchdown, and the Bears also got touchdowns on a kickoff return (Dennis Gentry, on the game’s opening kickoff) and an interception return (Mike Richardson), plus four field goals from Kevin Butler.
No. 7 1994 San Francisco 49ers d. No. 6 1953 Detroit Lions, 45-26
Steve Young threw for 346 yards and four touchdowns, with 137 of those yards and a touchdown belonging to Jerry Rice. Bobby Layne threw for 309 yards in a losing effort.
No. 1 1985 Chicago Bears d. No. 7 1994 San Francisco 49ers, 28-21
It was tied 21-21 after three quarters. Bears quarterback Jim McMahon put together a fourth-quarter drive that culminated in Walter Payton‘s winning 11-yard touchdown run. Steve Young attempted a tying drive but it ended when Wilber Marshall forced Ricky Watters to fumble.
The 1985 Chicago Bears advance to the Final Four to play the winner of the Joe Montana Region
Tomorrow: The semifinals and finals of the Joe Montana region. The teams:
No. 1 1984 San Francisco 49ers vs. No. 13 1987 Washington Redskins
No. 11 1979 Pittsburgh Steelers vs. No. 15 1967 Green Bay Packers
ROAD CLOSURES AROUND SoFi STADIUM
—Yukon Avenue will be closed to the general public from Century Boulevard to Stadium Drive from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.
—Stadium Drive will be closed to the general public from South Doty Avenue to the entrance of the Panhandle Lot from 8 a.m. until 8 p.m.
—Prairie Avenue will have fewer open lanes from Victory Street to Touchdown Drive from 8 a.m. until 10 p.m.
—Prairie Avenue’s northbound lanes will be closed from Century Boulevard to Arbor Vitae Street from 1 a.m. Sunday until Monday at 2 a.m. Also, its northbound lanes from W. 106th Street to Century Boulevard will be closed from 2 p.m. to Monday at 2 a.m.
—Century Boulevard will have lane closures in both directions from Yukon Avenue to Airport Boulevard from 7 a.m. until Monday at 2 a.m.
—98th Street will have its curb lane closed for about one block from Bellanca Avenue west from 7 a.m. to Monday at 2 a.m.
—Pincay Drive will be closed from Prairie Avenue to Kareem Court from 1 a.m. Sunday until Monday at 2 a.m. During the same period, the eastbound lane of Prairie Avenue will be open only to local traffic from Kareem Court to Crenshaw Boulevard.
—Kareem Court will be open only to rideshare vehicles from Manchester Avenue to Pincay Drive from 10 a.m. to Monday at 1 a.m.
—Manchester Boulevard’s eastbound lane from Prairie Avenue to Crenshaw Boulevard will be open only to local traffic from 4 p.m. Sunday to Monday at 2 a.m.
SUPER BOWL: WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
Super Bowl Sunday
at SoFi Stadium, Inglewood
Rams vs. Cincinnati, 3:30 p.m. PT, Rams favored by 4 1/2 points
TV: NBC and Telemundo.
Radio: Westwood One radio (AM 570 in Los Angeles), SiriusXM NFL Radio, NFL GamePass.
Streaming: NFL app (iOS, Android), Peacock app (iOS, Android), Telemundo app (iOS, Android), Yahoo Sports
Halftime show: Recording artists Dr. Dre, Mary J. Blige, Snoop Dogg, Eminem and Kendrick Lamar are scheduled to perform in the Super Bowl halftime show. The NFL has yet to announce who will sing the national anthem before the game.
Coronavirus guidelines if you attend: Under Los Angeles County’s coronavirus health and safety guidelines, all fans in attendance must be vaccinated. Fans attending the game will be required to wear masks and will be given KN95 masks. For further coronavirus rules and guidelines, click here.
WHO IS YOUR FAVORITE FOOTBALL PLAYER?
I asked you to send me the name of you favorite football player and why, and I was deluged with answers. Answers will be printed starting today. Keep sending them in by emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Include a couple of sentences explaining why that player is your favorite. It’s your chance to be read by the tens of thousands of people who subscribe.
Nick Ammazzalorso: Though I never saw him play on anything other than NFL Films, Bart Starr. As a child of Italian immigrants, I developed my love for football by watching NFL Films in the early 1980s, even before I watched a live game on TV. I knew what The Ice Bowl was long before I knew what the Super Bowl was. And because the descriptions of that game by John Facenda, Bart Starr became my hero and I became a Packers fan.
Paul Goldman: Jim brown is my vote for the greatest football player of all time. He displayed power, speed, resilience and perseverance through his career. He was unstoppable and his consistency of greatness in his entire career is unmatched.
Peter Myers: Chuck Bednarik. He played both ways and was outstanding at center and linebacker.
SUPER BOWL POLLS
Two Super Bowl polls for you to vote in: Which team will win, and who will be named the game’s MVP? Click here to vote. Results will be announced on Super Bowl Sunday.
Highlights from Super Bowl XXXVII (Buccaneers vs. Raiders). Watch and listen here.
Highlights from Super Bowl XXXVIII (Patriots vs. Panthers). Watch and listen here.
Highlights from Super Bowl XXIX (Patriots vs. Eagles). Watch and listen here.
Highlights from Super Bowl XL (Seahawks vs. Steelers). Watch and listen here.
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