Sean McVay confuses me, and not for the traditional football or nontraditional hyper-mnemonic reasons. It’s because he thinks something that surprises him is the same thing as other things. Like colors and noises.
The Los Angeles Rams, for whom he is the resident brainbox, lost hilariously to the San Francisco 49ers Sunday by beating win probability odds last seen when the Atlanta Falcons vomited up a 28-3 halftime lead to Lord Belichick in Super Bowl 51. Ignoring the fact that Kyle Shanahan somehow managed to avenge Kyle Shanahan, and dismissing the stat that the Rams tried to defend a 17-0 lead by having possession of the ball for 11 of the final 39 minutes, McVay decided the thing that surprised him most was being the road team in his own stadium.
Rams fans, apparently, decided either not to buy tickets to the final game of the regular season because being 12-4 is just so blase, or because they sold their tickets to San Francisco 49ers fans so they could watch the predictable beatdown in the comfort of their own homes.
Only 49er fans travel annoyingly well, especially when the flight is only an hour and the drive is six. As much as they may hate Jimmy “The Claw” Garoppolo and want him shipped out to sea in a motorized bank vault, they still want the team to win (wanting the quarterback to lose his job while still winning being such a rational world view and all), believe their presence somehow matters in that process, and won’t watch RedZone for seven hours as a substitute.
Whatever the reason, there was a demonstrable red swath in the background throughout Sunday’s game, (the crowd was announced at 74,447, but witnesses guessed the red menace was at least 70 percent) and Joe Buck mentioned the noise imbalance throughout the game, especially in the second half when the Rams took the knee the Chargers hoped the Raiders would have. Did that beat the Rams? No. The Rams beat the Rams. Did it befuddle McVay and Matthew Stafford? Without knowing their personal befuddlement levels, we can only guess as to the answer.
“It did catch us off guard,” McVay said of the crowd Monday. “Just because of the way that it’s been this year. It’s been great, great atmosphere, great environment. Yesterday was the same thing, but there was a lot of red there. That was definitely a surprise.”
Well, it can’t be a surprise and the same thing simultaneously there, Irish. You came close to saying Rams fans suck and pulled out of that particular barrel roll at the last minute, but that surely seems like the sentiment. Stafford said as much Sunday: “It was a tough environment for us to communicate in really the whole second half.”
This leaves us with only a few conclusions, none of them particularly gratifying in Ramville Towers.
- Rams fans are just brilliant negotiators and got great prices for their tickets. Likelihood: 2.6 percent.
- Rams fans are more skittish about COVID-19 contacts than 49ers fans, even though all fans willing to cram into small spaces are equally cavalier about the cootie. Likelihood: 6.6 percent.
- Rams fans are just blase about all that tedious winning (58-29 including playoffs for McVay), including that riveting Super Bowl loss to, yes, Lord Belichick. Likelihood: 19.1 percent.
- Rams fans are just Lakers fans who didn’t want to be distracted by the magic of the Memphis Grizzlies. Likelihood: 20.5 percent.
- Los Angeles still isn’t a football town despite the new stadium and the multiplicity of available teams. Likelihood: 51.2 percent.
L.A. spent 20 years without either the Rams or Raiders and seemed perfectly amenable to the absence, getting its football fixes via the best game on the schedule each week. When the Rams returned in 2016 as the add-on to a real estate deal, the Lakers had seized the town’s collective heart. Thus, when the Rams came with the Chargers as part of a typically brain-arrested owners’ scheme to keep the Raiders out of Los Angeles and promise San Diego owner Dean Spanos an escape route if he couldn’t get a stadium in Bordertown, which of course he couldn’t. In other words, the NFL didn’t view Los Angeles as a football market at all, but it did view Los Angeles as a giant stadium-and-studio deal, none of which warms the hearts of the season ticket holders who, in this case at least, treasure their tickets with the same fervor that they do a mattress tag.
Thus, we are settling on a sixth reason: that Los Angeles just has other stuff to do, even on a football Sunday. Fortunately for them, their next home game is this coming Monday against Arizona, a team whose fans not only don’t travel well but don’t always even leave the house well. Thus, Rams fans won’t have nearly the appealing resale market they apparently used to such personal advantage this past weekend. In addition, their historic hatred of stadium drives in rush-hour traffic might mean that there will likely be something worse than visiting team fans making noise, and that is disinterested silence until the second quarter and returning to that silence midway through the third.
McVay and Stafford should not be quite as surprised as they said they were Sunday, in large part because 49ers fans have not yet shown that they will go to stadiums where their team isn’t playing. Besides, they’ll all be flying back from Dallas after rooting for their team to win while hoping that Garoppolo has his femur snapped by some psychopathic Cowboy so they can call him injury-prone, too. That’s the beauty of 49ers fans—they turn up in numbers to the point where you just hope they’d leave the beer and go home again.