Column: Hoping for fans in the stands and other L.A. sports wishes for 2021

Fans wearing LeBron James jerseys head into Staples Center before the Lakers-Houston Rockets game on Oct. 20, 2018.
Fans wearing LeBron James jerseys head into Staples Center before the Lakers’ game against the Houston Rockets on Oct. 20, 2018. The COVID-19 pandemic has taught us that games desperately need fans.
(Harry How / Getty Images)

Of course. It figures. The first day of 2021 provided one last sports slap in the face from 2020.

Did you see the Fake Rose Bowl?

Did watching the “Rose Bowl Game” being played in some Dallas garage make you want to spit thorns?

It was tough enough to swallow the Tournament of Roses Assn. bowing to monetary pressures in allowing the Rose Bowl name to be hijacked to AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, where the game was moved because local health officials wouldn’t allow players’ families in the stands.


But to actually witness the blasphemy of Alabama playing Notre Dame in a fraudulent Rose Bowl setting Friday afternoon was pure torture.

There was a giant rose painted in the middle of a field located 1,400 miles from Pasadena. You saw bits of the bulb on every play. It was like watching somebody flaunt a stolen heirloom.

Alabama’s Mac Jones threw four touchdown passes and fellow Heisman Trophy finalist DeVonta Smith caught three of them in a 31-14 win over Notre Dame.

Jan. 1, 2021

There were rose patches on everyone’s jersey as they played under a sterile roof amid stands bereft of all color. You wanted to step into a huddle and point to those decals and gently inform the lads, “You know, this is really not that game.”

In the end, there were heaps of real roses at the victory celebration, real roses waved by the Alabama winners, real roses stuck jauntily in their mouths. On a sunny Southern California day when the San Gabriel Mountains turned a most wonderful shade of purple, even the actual flower turned treasonous.

Here’s hoping this sports year blooms a little different.

Although it began with a last lingering bit of despair, this column is actually about the Los Angeles sports hopes for 2021, seemingly so distant yet strikingly so real, hopes not only for greatness but for normalcy, hopes not only for championships but for consistency, hopes that the sparkling yet staggered Southland sports landscape collectively grows strong again.


As the Fake Rose Bowl showed, it can’t get any worse.

Here’s hoping that, by the NBA Finals, fans are back in the stands again.

If the pandemic taught us anything about sports, it is that games desperately need fans. The MVP of every sporting event, it turns out, is the crowd. There is little drama without them. The players aren’t as focused. The competition isn’t as fierce. The fun isn’t the same.

Hopefully COVID-19 vaccines will get fans back in the arenas and stadiums by July 2021, just in time for ... can you imagine the Lakers unveiling their 2020 championship banner in front of a packed Staples Center on the same night they open their Finals defense? Will that elicit the highest decibel roar in this town’s sports history?

Could you envision the Dodgers raising their championship flag a few nights later at a jammed Dodger Stadium? Clayton Kershaw, Justin Turner and Mookie Betts would carry that flag to the center-field fence amid Chavez-Ravine shaking cheers.

(Yeah, here’s also hoping the Dodgers re-sign Turner.)

It is impractical to hope that either team can ever recreate its lost championship parades. But when the fans return, the banner and flag-raising ceremonies will still bring the chills.

Paul Westphal, the player from Aviation High in Redondo who became an All-American at USC before a professional career as a player and coach, has died.

Jan. 2, 2021


Here’s hoping the Rams figure out their quarterback problem.

To win not only in the NFL, but in this town, you need a great quarterback, and Jared Goff does not look like the answer. It would be a shame to see the bold and innovative Rams organization stuck in place because it can’t figure out how to make a move with its most important yet most stagnant player.

Here’s hoping the Chargers figure out their quarterback whisperer problem.

Justin Herbert is a transformative talent who needs the support of a head coach who can help him continue to grow and shine. Is Anthony Lynn really that guy? Doesn’t Herbert deserve a different voice, an edgier tutor, his own version of Sean McVay?

Here’s hoping Mike Bohn can change the USC football culture.

USC coach Clay Helton and athletic director Mike Bohn after a 52-35 win over UCLA at the Coliseum on Nov. 23, 2019.
The fortunes of USC football coach Clay Helton, front, and athletic director Mike Bohn, pictured together in November 2019, are tied together.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

The USC athletic director’s job duties begin and ends with football. Bohn needs to get tough and do his job and change the football leadership. It would be understandable if the pandemic led him to delay his decision on Clay Helton until next season. Then again, Texas just fired Tom Herman after he went 32-18 and blew out Colorado in the Alamo Bowl. Trojans fans were not afforded the opportunity to see their team in a bowl game. And they were relieved.


Here’s hoping Martin Jarmond watches more UCLA football games.

In a recent interview with The Los Angeles Times’ Ben Bolch, the Bruins’ athletic director was supportive of expensive coach Chip Kelly, who has a 10-21 record.

Of their recently completed 3-4 season, which ended in dispiriting losses to USC and Stanford, Jarmond said, “They competed at a high level every game.”

Say what?

Here’s hoping both UCLA and USC basketball can regain their lost March magic.

Last spring, both were Sweet 16 teams. The Bruins entered the Pac-12 tournament on a roll, while the Trojans stormed in on a last-second shot. Both deserve a magic mulligan.

Korey Foreman, the defensive end from Corona Centennial High, announced his decision to attend USC on national television Saturday.

Jan. 2, 2021


Here’s hoping the Angels can get Mike Trout another playoff appearance before he loses all patience.

They have a championship manager in Joe Maddon and a bright new general manager in Perry Minasian. At some point, Trout is going to think, what else can they do? And, why am I still here?

Here’s hoping the Sparks, Kings, Ducks, Galaxy and LAFC all return to championship contention.

Like it or not, that’s the only way most locals are going to notice them.

Here’s hoping local high school athletes are allowed to return to the field before the end of the school year.

So much inspiration has been stifled. So many internal fires have been snuffed. So much education has disappeared. So many college dreams have been deferred. So much has been lost.

We miss cheering for our teams. We miss our community connection. We miss each other. We need that fabric restored, those young lives renewed.


Here’s hoping the Rose Bowl becomes the Rose Bowl again.

Seriously, is that too much to ask?