The most important matchup in the NFL on Sunday isn't on the league’s schedule.
The Los Angeles Rams vs. the Los Angeles Chargers.
The teams will be playing 12 miles apart, with the Rams taking on the Washington Redskins at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum at 4:25 p.m. ET and the Chargers facing the Miami Dolphins at StubHub Center in Carson at 4:05 p.m. ET. And so, the Rams and Chargers will begin in earnest a battle for the hearts, minds and disposable income in a town that has yet to prove it can support two NFL teams.
A history lesson: The last time two NFL teams played on the same day here was Dec. 24, 1994, when the Rams drew a reported “crowd’’ of 25,705 for their game against the Redskins near Disneyland in Anaheim and the Los Angeles Raiders drew 64,130 for their game against the Kansas City Chiefs at the Coliseum. Both teams promptly bolted town.
The Rams returned last year from St. Louis, and the Chargers, set to make their regular-season debut after 56 years in San Diego, have launched a marketing campaign called “Fight for L.A.”
"It’s not about fighting any other team in the market," Josh Rupprecht, vice president of public relations for the Chargers, told USA TODAY Sports by email. "It’s about understanding nothing is going to be given to us by fans in the market place, and we’re going to have to earn their respect and support. We don’t just expect it. We’re going to work for it. It’s a very blue-collar approach. We’re fighting for the support of the fans."
Has much changed in the L.A. market since it last was home to team NFL teams? There are more people (up to 9.8 million from 9.1 million), less smog (seriously) and a daunting sports landscape.
The Rams and Chargers are not only competing with each other, they are competing with two of everything — MLB teams, NBA teams, NHL teams and MLS teams (starting next year with Los Angeles FC). And, of course, the beach. A visit to Venice Beach on Wednesday provided some insight.
Kevin Eghbali said the Rams and Chargers have divided his family, which sometimes fights over which channel to watch — the one broadcasting the Chargers game or the one broadcasting the Rams game.
“It gets ugly,’’ said Eghbali, 19. “The house goes up in flames.’’
Semyon Gandlin, a cab driver, is giddy about the Chargers’ move to Los Angeles.
“We need this team in town,’’ he said. “Bring lots of money. Lots of fans here. Just ‘Go, Chargers! We love you.’ “
But not everybody at the beach was keenly attuned. Three women struggled when asked where the Rams played before coming back to L.A.
“Uh, the Rams played, was it Indiana Rams?’’ said one of the women.
A friend chimed in. “Not Atlanta. That’s Falcons, right.’’
A third friend, searching for the answer on her phone, said, “Cleveland? I don’t know.’’
Take a guess where those women will be Sunday. Not at the Coliseum, Stubhub Center or even a sports bar watching either game.
That's not to say Rams vs. Chargers is not compelling. There's actually quite a bit to like about these teams.
At 31, the Rams’ Sean McVay is younger than two of his players and, quite possibly at least one of the team ball boys.
At a comparatively ancient 48, the Chargers’ Anthony Lynn won Super Bowl rings with the Denver Broncos in 1997 and 1998, when McVay was still in grade school.
The Chargers’ Philip Rivers has six Pro Bowl appearances and seven children.
The Rams’ Jared Goff is 22 and in his second year of the NFL, and is almost young enough to be one of Rivers’ children.
The Chargers have 28 cheerleaders.
The Rams have 34 cheerleaders, six more than the Chargers!
Rampage (get it) is listed at 6-foot-1 and 200 pounds and, for the record, his favorite movie is Rambo and his favorite song is the critically acclaimed Ram it.
Boltman, the unofficial Chargers’ mascot, demanded the city of San Diego sue the Chargers for violating anti-trust laws when the team moved to Los Angeles.
Rampage looked lonely last week as the Rams beat the Indianapolis Colts 46-9 when the empty seats far outnumbered the fans despite the official attendance of 60,128. That sign is less ominous considering the ongoing stadium construction in Inglewood.
The state-of-the-art stadium is expected to be ready for the 2020 season and figures to be a boost for the Rams and Chargers. But for now, let the fight for market share