Lights, camera … traction.
When it comes to attracting the attention of NFL fans, Los Angeles is no longer spinning its wheels.
Teams from the nation’s second-largest market will be center stage the next three weeks, as the “Sunday Night Football” schedule reads: Chargers at Pittsburgh, Rams at Chicago, and Philadelphia at Rams.
“It’s nice to play at night with a nationally televised game, so everyone can see you play — I’m OK with that,” said coach Anthony Lynn of the Chargers, who haven’t played in NBC’s marquee game since Dec. 7, 2014 against New England. “That’s something we want to get used to around here.”
Likewise, L.A. should get accustomed to the spotlight, with the Rams at 10-1, and the Chargers 8-3. In fact, the Chargers also will be in the Fox spotlight on Thursday, Dec. 13, when they visit the AFC West rival Kansas City Chiefs.
The Rams haven’t played in the Sunday night window since moving back from St. Louis in 2016, although NBC’s No. 1 broadcast team — Al Michaels, Cris Collinsworth, and Michele Tafoya — called last year’s playoff game between the Rams and Atlanta Falcons.
It’s a landmark moment for play-by-play man Michaels, who lives in Los Angeles, and hasn’t called a game this season west of Dallas. He never called an NFL game in L.A. during his 20 seasons in Los Angeles, although he did work a couple in Anaheim when the Rams played there.
“This is absolutely good for L.A.,” Michaels said of the next three weeks. “For the Chargers, they get national attention, a prime-time, stand-alone game that has a lot of buzz.”
That buzz already has enveloped the Rams, who had a week off after their 54-51, haymaker-for-haymaker thriller over Kansas City on “Monday Night Football,” the best game of the season. They play at Detroit on Sunday.
Collinsworth said the Rams and Chargers have diametrically opposed reputations nationally.
“The Rams are thought of as this young, up-and-coming Super Bowl favorite that everybody loves,” he said. “They have this young coach, young quarterback. They’re the future of the NFL. They’ve got the future NFL stadium coming in. It’s like everything is bright and shiny and new. It’s amazing that for all the attention they’re getting — MVP conversations with [Todd] Gurley and [Jared] Goff, the whole bit — that the Chargers seem to be on just the opposite end of it.
“I’ve got to admit that I’ve been spending all last night and all day today watching their tape because I didn’t know anything about them, as far as specifics of what was going on with that team. It’s been so long since we’ve had one of their games on national television … So I’ve really enjoyed the process.”
Collinsworth said the Chargers have a chance Sunday to shake up the AFC.
“They can do that if they win,” he said. “If they get beat, then it’s, ‘Hey, the Steelers are tough. They’re playing at home. They’re playing in the cold.’ It’s a non-event if Pittsburgh wins the game.
“If the Chargers win, it’s a seismic event. Because now we have to start thinking about, is this the second-best team in the AFC? And where does New England fit in against them? … If the Chargers can win this thing, I think it’s a huge statement for them.”
The Chargers are 2-9 against the Steelers since beating Pittsburgh in the AFC Championship Game in early 1995, and 1-4 at Heinz Field, which opened in 2001.
“It’s just the environment, the atmosphere, the tradition they have at that place,” Lynn said.
The Steelers are 17-9 on Sunday nights under coach Mike Tomlin.
As for the Chargers-Rams-Rams lineup, it’s exceedingly rare for a team or teams from one market to seize the NBC spotlight in three consecutive weeks, but it’s not unprecedented. During the 2010 season, the network went New York Giants, Jets, and Giants in Weeks 2-4.
But those were early-season games. The next three are pivotal in defining the playoff picture. The first two of the games were flexed, moved into the marquee slot because they were far more compelling than the Sunday night games originally scheduled. Chargers-Steelers replaces San Francisco at Seattle, and Rams at Chicago bumped Steelers at Oakland.
The least attractive of the next three Sunday night games could be the third, even though it features the defending Super Bowl champions. By that point, the Rams might have wrapped up a first-round bye, while the struggling Eagles could be irrelevant. It’s possible that game could be replaced, although that’s too early to forecast.
NBC already has hopped on the Southern California story line, promoting the three upcoming games during last Sunday’s Green Bay-Minnesota matchup by showing highlights of the Rams and Chargers as “I Love L.A.” played in the background.
“We’re going to play up the Los Angeles part of it,” said Fred Gaudelli, executive producer of “Sunday Night Football”. “We’re going to do some vignettes on the new stadium, and we actually shot in there all day Tuesday. We got our cameras into the construction.”
Even when L.A. didn’t have an NFL team, just about every “Sunday Night Football” season started here. That’s because the “open,” the introductory song featuring Carrie Underwood and the biggest stars in the game, is shot each June at various studios around the city.
“The only exceptions were we shot Pink in New York, and one year we shot Faith Hill in Orlando,” Gaudelli said.
The big song in Pittsburgh is the thumping rock classic “Renegade” by Styx, which reverberates throughout Heinz Field during the third quarter of every home game.
“I remember that vividly in the 2008 playoff game,” said Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers, whose team lost that divisional game, 35-24. “[Styx] sang that live right there. Big snowflakes falling pregame. It was like out of a dream. This is it. Doesn’t get any better than that, right from the coin toss. The game didn’t go so well, but …”