Behind the cashier at the Canal Street tourist trap I had wandered into was a wall of sports-themed Mardi Gras necklaces. I originally walked in searching for a T-shirt for extra layering because it was unusually cold, but one of the trinkets caught my eye so I thought: Why not?
“Could I get the Rams necklace behind you?”
Good thing this happened before the NFC Championship game. Judging by the speed in which her smile morphed into a chilling side eye, no telling what she would have done to me had this happened afterward.
“You want what?”
“The Rams necklace.”
A beat pass.
It was like a scene in a Quentin Tarantino movie.
Finally, she broke the standoff by first sucking her teeth so loudly I could faintly hear it over Montell Jordan’s “This Is How We Do It,” which was blaring out of the speakers above.
She turned, grabbed one, whipped back around and asked, “Anything else?” in a tone that essentially meant “don’t ask me for anything else.”
The rest of the transaction happened with fewer words as I thought how I’d been visiting this beautiful city for more than 25 years and this might be the first time someone didn’t want to sell me some kind of New Orleans-style souvenir. And while it makes sense for a fan of the home team not to want the fan of the visiting team to feel too comfortable, if this scenario were in reverse it would not have played out the same. It’s not that deep for us in L.A. But when it comes to the Saints of New Orleans, this is how they do it.
Your Los Angeles Rams are in the Super Bowl, but the “your” part of the sentiment leaves a lot to be desired. Anyone who has ventured to the Coliseum for a game over the last three seasons knows it is not unusual to see a healthy number of visiting-team jerseys in the stands.
The Divisional Round game against the Cowboys may have been 40% Dallas fans — which is a huge improvement from the 2017 preseason opener matchup — but still a disappointing scenario for a team that went 13-3 and is full of star power. In fact, Sean McVay has led the Rams to the most regular season wins in a two-year span of any coach in franchise history, and that includes teams featuring Kurt Warner and Eric Dickerson.
So if winning doesn’t integrate a team into a city’s DNA, perhaps it’s the losing.
You know how it is — you can talk about your kids but no one else can. The Saints franchise began play in 1967 but didn’t make the playoffs until 1987. That’s 20 consecutive years of losing. So even though the team’s name initially served as a hat tip to the city’s large Catholic population, two decades of losing is certainly an effective way of smoking out “fair-weather-ness,” regardless of faith.
In fact, the Saints’ first playoff victory didn’t come until 2000 against, coincidentally, the Rams. Except those Rams were from Missouri, not California. The Rams left for St. Louis in 1994, and that hiccup in continuity was long enough to lose the 48 years of support the team once enjoyed. That means Los Angeles missed out on the winning but more importantly the losing.
Anyone can support the victors; only the loyal remain in defeat. Only the most loyal of supporters would put paper bags on their heads and be there week in and week out for a team nicknamed the ’Aints.
This is why the cashier at the tourist spot wanted to rip my heart out when I asked for a Rams necklace. It was the equivalent of making fun of her kids. Despite the awkwardness of the moment, I found it endearing.
At Drago’s, a local spot known for its gumbo and bread pudding, a couple of Lakers fans were rabidly cheering the team during the 138-134 loss to the Houston Rockets. They were wearing Saints jerseys. When I asked where they were from, they told me L.A. When I asked if they were conflicted, they said no. When they left, I thought: The hell you’re not.
I have no idea how many Rams fans are going to make the journey to Atlanta to see them play in the Super Bowl. I know Saints fans travel. I know Cowboys fans travel. I know Chiefs fans travel. I know Patriots fans will travel. But what about us?
Are we even an us or will it take losing and not winning to forge an us willing to fly cross-country, pay inflated hotel rates and be there in support?
It’s a cynical way of looking at fandom, but in a city as transient as Los Angeles, it may take longer than a couple of years to get the people behind a team in a meaningful way.
The Los Angeles Fire Department encouraged its 3,500 members to swap out its LAFD cap for a Dodgers cap during the World Series. This week it encouraged the same thing in support of the Super Bowl-bound Rams. A spokesperson told me it wasn’t a requirement and that they had no idea how many would do so. The spokesperson then said they weren’t much into football, weren’t planning on wearing a Rams cap and might watch the last 10 minutes of the game — if they’re not busy and it’s close.
Can’t really imagine anyone from New Orleans saying anything remotely close to that had the Saints made it to the big game. That’s because that team and the city have always been there for each other. Through the losing. Through the winning. Through Hurricane Katrina and ownership drama. Through it all. Since McVay has been with the team, the Rams have risen to the top. As counterintuitive as this may sound, the team may not find its true tribe until it sinks to the bottom.