Sammy Reyes stands under a pop-up canopy in the parking lot of Sophie Stadium in Inglewood on Sunday afternoon, September 12, and looks at the party that surrounded him.
Reyes is from East LA but despite traveling miles to get there, Reyes, a lifelong Rams fan, didn’t feel like a visitor.
“This is home,” he said.
Reyes joined thousands of other football fans to join Sophie later this summer to celebrate the first Los Angeles Rams game of the 2021-22 NFL season.
But it was more than that.
It was kind of a homecoming. And a long-awaited one at that.
The regular season kick-off between the Rams and the upcoming Chicago Bears marked the second campaign the Los Angeles football team has played at Sophie’s, years in the making of a 70,000-seat, technologically amazing stadium. However, the last season was played without fans due to the coronavirus pandemic.
But those fans, many of whom stuck with the franchise through transfer after transfer — from LA to Anaheim to St. Louis and back to LA — finally got their chance to be with their team. And root for them personally.
And they party. Or rather, the tail. Hip hop and mariachi music created a ruckus. The parking lot was filled with the aroma of barbecue. Smartphones spend overtime in taking pictures of the moment.
“They’re finally home,” said Joe E. Hernandez of Whittier. “It’s like when you find someone you love, and then they leave but then come back. You know it had to be.”
#ramhouse fan in tailgate #sophistadium against the parking lot before their season opener #chicagobears Sunday. It is the first regular season game for fans in a $5 billion stadium that opened to no fans last year. pic.twitter.com/QTBfwaeBYF
— Will Lester (@WillLesterPhoto) September 12, 2021
Sunday’s game had been going on for a long time.
Its direct lineage dates back to at least 2013, when St. Louis Rams owner and president Stan Kroenke met with Inglewood Mayor James Butts. The meeting was supposed to last 15 minutes. Instead, he hung around for two and a half hours, plotting “an action plan” to build the stadium.
The Rams returned to Los Angeles in 2016, taking up temporary residence at their old stomping ground, the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
And plans went ahead for a $5 billion project that officials say is transforming a city that was on the verge of bankruptcy just nine years ago. Sophie’s, on the former Hollywood Park Racetrack property not far from LAX, is part of a larger 298-acre sports and entertainment destination that is being developed.
The stadium typically seats around 70,000 – the Rams sold 70,455 tickets for Sundays – but can expand to 100,000. A 70,000-square-foot video board – a double-sided techno-miracle – appears to be floating on the field.
The Rolling Stones play here in October.
But the stadium, as fans would say, is the home of the Rams.
As it began at 5:20 p.m., fans slowly left the parking lot and went inside their new cathedral. And those wearing the wrong colors were also affected.
“It’s awesome,” said John Dyer of Chicago. He participated in the sport with his son and his brother, Kevin Dyer. Kevin Dyer’s response was similar:
The excitement and reverence inside and outside Sophie was quite different from the original 2020 season.
Ram was to return home last year. And they used to play in Sophie.
But county health orders designed to curb the spread of the coronavirus kept fans away. The seats were empty, except for fan cutouts at both ends of the field. The team’s first home game also opened amid historic social unrest in the nation, and in LA, where the field saw outrage against racism, with several players taking a knee during the national anthem.
The coronavirus is still around, causing some health orders – such as masking – to return.
But that didn’t seem to dampen his enthusiasm.
Fans played catch in the parking lot. He drank and played sports. Played drinking games. He chanted.
“Whether we’re masked or not,” said Palm Springs resident John White, “we’re going to show up.”
However, something was amiss.
Long queues of vehicles filled many narrow streets of the stadium, with fans complaining that after more than an hour-long wait on the surrounding streets, they reached Sophie’s as soon as they left the local freeway. The president’s complaints about echoing traffic, spotty WiFi and the need for more discounted offers—something Ram said he would work to improve.
Still, the frustration was met with anger from youth and old-timers wanting to see stars like quarterback Matthew Stafford and cornerback Darius Williams.
Finally, inside the packed stadium, the game was on – and thousands cheered for Ram.
The Rams scored early when quarterback Matthew Stafford hit Van Jefferson for a 67-yard touchdown – the Rams’ longest pass completed since 2018.
Sandra Marie Ramirez said her father, Manuel Ignacio Valle, would be pleased.
Ramirez’s father, an El Monte resident and lifelong Rams fan, died last year.
So his daughter had come from Las Vegas to attend Sunday’s game for him.
“My heart goes out to my dad,” she said.
As the fourth quarter ended, the Rams had a comfortable lead.
The Rams have seven more games in Sophie this season, not counting the playoffs.
It’s seven more chances for his fans to come home.
At the end.