Outnumbered again, Rams fans ultimately find SoFi satisfaction on Sunday
Fans of the Los Angeles Rams and San Francisco 49ers matched up Sunday outside SoFi stadium before the NFC championship game.
The game surrounding Sunday’s NFC championship game surfaced inside SoFi Stadium once fans began trickling through the gates at 1:30 p.m.
One side wore blue and yellow defending their turf as Rams supporters. Their counterparts — fans of the San Francisco 49ers — were the loud, unruly guests in red and gold. If the $5-billion building was indeed the Rams’ house — as the franchise’s tagline suggests ad nauseam — then the 49ers aficionados crashed the ADU out back and threw themselves a carne asada.
A stroll around the concourse, teeming with playful tension, plainly illustrated the dichotomy.
“Niners house!” a 49ers fan on the 300-level yelled 90 minutes before kickoff.
The Rams, winners of a 20-17 thriller over the 49ers, will attempt to win their first Super Bowl in L.A. when they face the Bengals on February 13 at SoFi Stadium.
“F— no!” contested a man with a “Rams House” flag draped around him like a cape.
“Home game,” a man in a 49ers jersey quickly rebutted.
Rams fans were outnumbered. An unofficial tally estimates it was a 60-40 split, though both sides were loud enough for both teams to use a silent snap count on offense. In the end, the people in blue were the last ones cheering in the Rams’ heart-stopping 20-17 win.
“Our fans did an unbelievable job tonight making it a tough environment,” said Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford. “And it’s nice to send some of those red jerseys home. So that was cool.”
The clash between NFC West rivals was reminiscent of their meeting in Week 18 when a sea of red infiltrated Inglewood to watch the 49ers come back from a 17-point deficit to beat the Rams in overtime. The win — the 49ers’ sixth straight over the Rams — clinched a playoff berth.
Photos from the Rams’ 20-17 victory over the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC championship game at SoFi Stadium on Sunday.
Ken Bigelow was in the stands for the meltdown. He lives in New Jersey, but the Los Angeles native flies across the country to attend every Rams home game as a season-ticket holder.
“Ram fans are just not as intense,” Bigelow said. “They don’t have [that intensity] — well, I do because I was here in the ’70s. But a lot of them are like, ‘Oh, let me sell the tickets. I can watch it on TV.’ They don’t get it yet, but they’ll get it eventually.”
Bigelow went to Sunday’s game with his girlfriend, his son, and his grandson. The group, spanning three generations, was a metaphor for NFL fandom in Los Angeles.
While Bigelow grew up a Rams fan, his 36-year-old son, Brian, didn’t catch Rams fever when the franchise was stationed in St. Louis. He reached his formative team-picking years when the 49ers were annual Super Bowl contenders so he became a 49ers fan. But his 11-year-old son Tyler, who wore a Stafford jersey Sunday, roots for the Rams.
“It’s not that surprising because for 21 years there was nobody here so there’s a whole generation in L.A. who needed a team and they were the best team,” Bigelow said. “You can’t blame them.”
Location was irrelevant for Michael Shatas. The 27-year-old Rams fan was born and raised in upstate New York. He flew to California with friend Shane Colamarino — a 49ers devotee — Saturday.
“We found a 49ers party at a bar,” Colamarino shared with a smile. “It was great.”
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Shatas came to love the Rams at the turn of the century when The Greatest Show on Turf was in Missouri. He wore an Aaron Donald jersey. Colamarino wore a George Kittle jersey and proudly showed off a Nick Bosa shirsey underneath. They paid $1,000 each for tickets on the secondary market and splurged another $600 for a hotel room.
It was a shorter trip for Bryan Polio, Jose Chity, and Frankie Argueta, three 29-year-old Rams fans from South Central. They try attending two Rams games a season. They declined to share how much they paid to see their Rams play for a Super Bowl berth.
“It’s a little crazy,” Polio said. “We ain’t making rent this month, but it’s cool.”
The three friends met in ninth grade. They hadn’t yet had their second birthdays when the Rams bolted for St. Louis in January 1995, but, knowing the team’s history in Los Angeles, they said they’ve been fans going back to the Marshall Faulk and Kurt Warner days.
Polio admitted most of his friends and family members don’t care for the Rams. They gravitated to the 49ers and the Raiders and the Cowboys when the NFL abandoned Los Angeles. He promised that’ll change if the Rams keep winning.
“You gotta understand we’re building it right now,” Polio said. “We go to the Super Bowl, it’s blue next year.”
On Sunday, red penetrated. It was a neutral-site game dressed as a home contest for the Rams. All day, from the tailgate through the end of the thriller, the two contingents went back and forth.
But the two sides realized they had one rooting interest in common Sunday as they watched the AFC championship game between the Cincinnati Bengals and Kansas City Chiefs on the videoboard.
The stadium came to life when the underdog Bengals, down 21-3 late in the second quarter, began orchestrating a comeback.
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It boomed with each Bengals touchdown. And when Evan McPherson kicked the game-winning field goal in overtime to send Cincinnati to the Super Bowl, the place erupted.
Fans in red and blue rejoiced. They celebrated together knowing the Chiefs, consensus Super Bowl favorites, were going home.
That congeniality quickly faded. For the next four hours, the two sides took turns screaming at the top of their lungs until quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo’s interception with 1:09 left.
The mistake sealed the win for the Rams and sent 49ers fans to the exits. SoFi Stadium was ultimately the Rams’ house Sunday.
And it might be again in two weeks.
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