On his way to work Thursday morning, Rams tackle Rob Havenstein saw people lining up to donate blood for victims of the deadly Borderline Bar and Grill shooting.
On his way home from work … well, Havenstein never got to go home.
That afternoon, while the Rams were practicing, Havenstein’s Newbury Park home was evacuated as the Hill fire roared toward his neighborhood. When he came off the field, he found his wife Meaghan and the couple’s five-week-old daughter waiting for him.
So they went to stay in Agoura Hills, only to be forced out again as the Woolsey fire closed in.
That made for a long week for Havenstein and everyone else in the Rams organization, which had 75 players, coaches and staff driven from their homes by a pair of mammoth wildfires. As a result the team celebrated more than a win after beating the Seattle Seahawks 36-31 on Sunday. It celebrated having survived.
“When you’re on the field, you’re playing. If you think about something else you’re going to be wrong,” said Havenstein, who eventually wound up seeking refuge in Beverly Hills. “But when you think about it now, it’s tough. And it’s tough for a lot of families.”
Quarterback Jared Goff, who also was forced to evacuate Thursday, agreed the game gave the team something positive to focus on. And he hopes the team can rally its neighbors as well.
“We came together through it,” he said. “We spent a lot of time together the last few days just being in the hotel. Hopefully the community can see that as an example of fighting through that adversity.”
The Rams have been in Thousand Oaks less than three seasons and their training facility is just four miles from Borderline Bar and Grill. Several players spoke of how the pain of multiple tragedies over the last week has drawn them closer to the people there.
“This is home now,” defensive tackle Aaron Donald said. “So when things like that happen, it affects us too.”
Added defensive lineman Ndamukong Suh: “We’re a big part of it. Obviously we’re stationed there five out of seven days a week. Drive there every single day. The shooting wasn’t far away from us.
“We’ve got to be able to band together as a community, as a group to be able to help each other.”
Some players offered more than moral support. Offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth donated his game check — about $60,000 — to a fund set up for the 12 families who lost loved ones in Wednesday’s shooting. He also joined at least four other teammates in auctioning off their game-worn jerseys to raise money for that fund and for the American Red Cross wildfire relief fund.
“We’ve been blessed by this game and so many millions of things have been just amazing,” Whitworth said. “The least I can do is say, ‘I can give away for the financial reward of playing this game, this week.’ It doesn’t stop there. There will be more to come.
“These fires and everything else, there’s more for us to do as people. If people just get off their butts and help each other, wrap our arms around each other and help each other through adversity, then that’s all that really matters. We have to pull together.”
In light of that kind of emotion, Rams coach Sean McVay said he and his coaching staff had to walk a fine line between ensuring that his players and their families were taken care of and making sure they also were prepared for something that, in comparison to the real-life dramas playing out away from the field, was nothing more than another game.
The fact they were not only able to do that, but also hold on for a gutsy win that went down to the final seconds, makes the result a lot more than just another win.
“Not just for us,” linebacker Dante Fowler Jr. said, “but for the city.”
Havenstein celebrated the win too but without his family, which he put on a plane before Sunday’s game. He probably won’t have a chance to check on his house until after next week’s game in Mexico City. But he insists he’s not worried.
The win over the Seahawks was just a game, he said, and his house is just a house. The important things are safe.