The Rams are back and so am I.
That is the Los Angeles Rams, who are presently 7-2. This may sound like a bandwagon move, but I have roots and 7-2 is a good time to return to them.
If you were a sports fan in Bakersfield, you had a decision: north or south. For football, it was either the 49ers, Raiders or Rams. The Chargers were like another state.
The Raiders and 49ers could have been a package deal, since they played in different divisions, but it was rare to meet a fan who liked both. Their cultures were different. The Raiders were the outlaws, bad boys and castoffs, and the 49ers were more elegant, ethereal and cosmopolitan.
Occasionally, there was the Bakersfield fan who followed the Steelers, Cowboys, Packers or a team that didn’t make much geographical sense but with whom they had forged an allegiance through an uncle, father or an act of imagination.
My dad was a Rams’ fan and on Sunday, we would sit on the big purple sofa and watch the games. My brother Derek cried after some Rams’ games and Derek rarely cried.
The Rams were like that. They could make you cry. The Rams were good, sometimes very good, but no matter how good they were, usually there was somebody better.
They were a 9-6 even when their record was better than 9-6. Stronger teams laid in wait. The Vikings, Packers, Lions. Teams of destiny, a destiny the Rams did not share. The Rams never could quite get over the hump and neither could their fans.
The players were great, their exploits something in which to sink your teeth. Jack Snow, the terrific wide receiver who was not terribly fast but neither were some of us. During our football games in the front yard, we imagined ourselves to be sure-handed replicas of Snow.
The Fearsome Foursome, the great defensive line featuring Lamar Lundy, Merlin Olsen, Deacon Jones and Rosey Grier. Quarterbacks had nightmares about the Fearsome Foursome.
How about Tom Mack, Jackie Slater, Marshall Faulk, Eric Dickerson, Jack Youngblood, LeRoy Irvin, Jack “Hacksaw” Reynolds, Jack Pardee, Fred Dryer, Lawrence McCutcheon and Roman Gabriel, the tall, strong, gifted quarterback. Gabriel was good, he could get you to the Pearly Gates, but he couldn’t get you in. Couldn’t get you in, under or over the top.
We had a personal connection to the Rams, or at least it felt like it. The Popoviches, our cousins in Redondo Beach, lived a few blocks from the Pacific Coast Highway and Plush Horse Inn. The Rams stayed there before game days and although I can’t remember seeing them, knowing they were there was enough.
We lived and died with the Rams. Sunday after Sunday. Year after year. Four boys on the purple sofa, a sofa that we have to this day, although it’s not purple anymore.
The Rams moved to St. Louis after the 1994 season and everything changed, but it had been changing anyway. The geography became untenable and life outside of football (some people might argue that there is no life outside of football) became thicker.
We grew up, left home and started families. We started working. Watching football on the purple sofa seemed a luxury.
Two years ago, the Rams returned to L.A. They were miserable the first year and even if they hadn’t been, we acted like spurned lovers waiting for the apology and it was too soon to jump back into their arms.
Thirty-two-year-old Sean McVay is the new coach this year, second-year quarterback Jared Goff has matured, running back Todd Gurley has come alive and the Rams’ defense makes you think of the old days.
I’m back in and I’ve invited my brothers to be in as well along with my football-loving sons (one who would rather drive his car into a raging creek then follow the Rams).
The Rams are good. We’re on the comfortable sofa again. There’s room for our favorite Rams' fan. Dad would be pleased.