The game is undeniably a homecoming — but for whom?
For the Rams, Sunday’s home opener against the Seattle Seahawks will be their first regular-season game at the Coliseum since 1979.
But for Seahawks Coach Pete Carroll, the game marks his return to the stadium where he forged his USC legacy, staking a claim to a pair of national titles and winning or sharing seven consecutive conference titles.
“I’m really looking forward to it,” Carroll told The Times this summer when asked about his return. “Ever since [the Rams’ relocation] started happening, I was thinking about what a good thing it was to keep this division on the West Coast. Having a chance to go down to L.A. and play down there is really fun. Hope a lot of people show up.”
That shouldn’t be an issue. As they did for the exhibition opener against Dallas, the Rams expanded the stadium’s capacity to about 90,000 for the Seattle game, selling 10,000 additional seats they don’t intend to sell for the other home games because the views of the field aren’t as good.
Considering that it’s a historic game for them — and Carroll is coming back — the Rams will make an exception.
Although Carroll directed the Trojans to seven major bowl appearances — losing only to Texas in the Bowl Championship Series title game — he left USC a few months before the NCAA handed down some of the most severe sanctions in the history of college sports.
Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman, who grew up in L.A. and had huge games at the Coliseum when playing for Stanford, said he expects Carroll to get a warm reception from the crowd when he jogs onto the field.
“I think L.A. is going to welcome him with open arms, because for so long the only NFL team they had was the USC Trojans,” Sherman said. “Pete Carroll was their NFL coach for like 10 years or so, and they had an incredible run.”
In fact, Sherman said, the Rams might want to arrange their pregame introductions to take advantage of that applause.
“And the coach of the Seahawks, Pete Carroll. Ladies and gentlemen, your Los Angeles Rams.…”
Said Sherman: “They might want to blend them together, because if they do it separate, Pete will probably get a louder reception.”
Carroll, whose Seahawks posted a 12-10 victory over Miami in their opener, is the first of several former USC fixtures to return as visitors to the Coliseum this season. Quarterback Carson Palmer will come back with the Arizona Cardinals, center Ryan Kalil will return with the Carolina Panthers, and most intriguing will be the Oct. 9 homecoming of running back Reggie Bush of the Buffalo Bills.
A decade after leaving USC, Bush said that he has lots of fond memories of playing at the Coliseum and that “I really enjoyed my time there, going back to my freshman year, scoring my first touchdown.”
“When I signed with the Bills, I didn’t look at the schedule,” he told reporters in Buffalo last week. “I was focused on making sure I was healthy and could contribute to the team and really earn my spot. Somebody told me later that we played in the Coliseum, so it’s going to be exciting when that time comes.”
The Coliseum is where Bush had his epic performance against No. 16 Fresno State in 2005, rolling up a staggering 513 all-purpose yards including 294 on the ground. That came three years after Palmer locked up the Heisman there by throwing for four touchdowns and 425 yards against Notre Dame.
“I feel like I made my own history there,” Palmer said. “I still think of it as a home stadium. I have such an attachment to it and to that fan base that it feels like it’s going home.”
Bush and Palmer said they have never been in the visitors’ locker room at the Coliseum.
“I don’t even know where it is,” Palmer conceded. “I’m trying to think right now. … I mean, they come out of the same tunnel we came out of. I couldn’t tell you where it is. I know [visiting] teams come out of a door, but I don’t know where that hallway goes to.”
The space for Coliseum visitors is small by locker-room standards, but it’s tidy, with red carpeting and simple gray locker stalls. What makes that room different is the isolating way the lockers are arranged, like the rows of a library — three rows with five lockers on each side, surrounded by lockers ringing the walls.
“It has not changed much since I was first here in the late ’80s, early ’90s,” said Joe Furin, Coliseum general manager. “From the history of it, I’d say it was always set up to be quote-unquote adequate but certainly not going far beyond what is the bare minimum. You need a room with showers and stalls for dressing? Well, there it is.”
The locker room was designed that way at the request of late Raiders owner Al Davis, who, as the story goes, wanted to make it as inconvenient as possible for visiting teams to gather as a group.
“It’s terrible,” said Sherman, who remembers the room from his Stanford days. “It’s a closet. You’ve got to stand on something to look over the lockers, somehow try to duck under and see people. It’s difficult.”
Worn and outdated as the 93-year-old venue is, the grandeur of the Coliseum is not lost on Palmer.
“There’s so much history, so much tradition,” he said. “I love that it’s not a new, fancy, Oregon, Nike this or that. I love that it’s not one of those whirlpool, spa places. It’s old, it kind of smells funky with that kind of mildew smell. It’s rusty. It doesn’t have those luxury suites that hang over the edge of the field.
For Carroll, the next chapter of that history will be written Sunday. Even though he has taken the Seahawks to two Super Bowls, winning one, he still feels a deep connection to Southern California.
“I don’t think I’ll ever feel the same about any place as I do about L.A.,” Carroll said. “That’s where we started, that’s where we dug in. That was the birthing place of our efforts to work in the community, which I’m really grateful for. It’s really important for me.”
Furin said that from a facilities standpoint, the Seahawks will be treated like any visiting team.
“But from a personal standpoint and a historic standpoint, obviously you’ve got a very successful coach coming back,” he said. “I’m sure the emotions will be high on his end, as well as with some of the people who work here. It will be great to see him again. It will be odd to see him in different colors, and coming into the locker room and turning to the left instead of turning to the right.”
Carroll will turn left now, but for him, everything else about the Coliseum feels right.