If the Super Bowl LVI story was a movie plot, you wouldn’t believe it – Orange County Register

OJ Simpson threw the pre-game play and Michael Jackson played the halftime show the last time the Super Bowl came to the Los Angeles area in 1993.

The area had two NFL teams at the time, although both left within two years for St. Louis and Oakland and the league was something locals only watched on television for a generation.

The long, winding journey from Super Bowl LVI on Sunday, when the former and current Los Angeles Rams take on the Cincinnati Bengals in a $5.5 billion palace — SoFi Stadium in Inglewood — required leaps of faith , incredible timing and, yes, dumb luck that left even insiders shaking their heads.

“It’s kind of surreal that we’re here in many ways after all these years,” NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said.

After all, this trip needed a billionaire to recognize that business would be better in dear Los Angeles than in the Midwest and, a year later, a millennial from Washington was the man he needed to show the way.

It also depended on a three-month rain spell – 17.1 inches – which was wonderful for drought conditions but horrible for construction and forced what ultimately turned out to be a fortuitous delay.

Construction of SoFi Stadium in Inglewood continued on Friday, June 7, 2019. (Photo by Scott Varley, Daily Breeze/SCNG)

And some kind of cute encounter in Cabo San Lucas certainly helped.

“If it was a Hollywood script, it would be thrown out because no one would believe it,” Rams chief operating officer Kevin Demoff said on a recent conference call.

The Rams’ fan-favorite scenario would of course include a victory Sunday for the franchise’s second Super Bowl title, but its first representing the Los Angeles area.

St. Louis Rams coach Dick Vermeil and team owner Georgia Frontiere stand on the podium as confetti falls after the Rams’ 23-16 victory over the Tennessee Titans in Super Bowl XXXIV on January 30 2000 in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

The organization won Super Bowl XXXIV as the St. Louis Rams, but it was bittersweet at best for local fans who felt let down when then-owner Georgia Frontiere moved the Anaheim team after the 1994 season.

The LA version of the Rams reached Super Bowl XIV in the Rose Bowl against the Pittsburgh Steelers and Super Bowl LIII in Atlanta against the New England Patriots, but lost both times.

“If the Rams could win the Super Bowl, it would be like my childhood dream come true,” said longtime NFL agent Leigh Steinberg, co-chair of the Save the Rams campaign that has tried to prevent Frontiere to take the team to St. . Louis.

Long time ahead

When Kathryn Schloessman took over as president of the Los Angeles Sports and Entertainment Commission, the return of the NFL to the region and, with it, other events such as the Super Bowl seemed like a sure thing, the inevitable conclusion.

“I had thought we would have a comeback team in three or four years and a Super Bowl soon after,” she said. “That was 25 years ago.”

Schloessman became a regular visitor to Super Bowls in other cities, where she discussed the seemingly obvious benefits of an NFL presence in the nation’s entertainment capital and second-largest television market.

And such a comeback has gone far beyond the idea stage and into sustained efforts by everyone from real estate developers to Hollywood moguls. They flirted with possible franchise moves and even reached a final vote on an expansion team in 2000.

This team is called the Houston Texans, by the way.

“Losing two NFL teams (here) in the 90s was a tough time for us and our fans and something we worked very hard to resolve,” Goodell said. “But we wanted to find the right solution.”

The NFL controlled Los Angeles’ rights and refused to let any team assert its claim. It took the combination of a team in a position that they could leave – without creating new problems for the league – and an owner who could afford to build a world-class stadium without tax assistance, which n was not the case in California.

Billionaire Rams owner Stan Kroenke had a deal in St. Louis with an escape clause, the wealth to pay for the venue that became SoFi Stadium, and the ability to right what many saw as Frontiere’s wrong.

Kroenke also understood that a move to Southern California would be a boon for businesses, even with substantial costs such as moving expenses and building a venue to make it happen.

“When the Rams were in St. Louis, they were worth about $875 million,” Steinberg said. “The minute they came back, all of a sudden it was $2 billion. Now it’s $3 billion.

On January 12, 2016, NFL owners approved the Rams’ return to Los Angeles, their former home of 49 seasons.

Rams head coach Sean McVay celebrates a touchdown against the San Francisco 49ers in the first half of last month’s NFC Championship Game at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

Exactly one year later, they hired 30-year-old Sean McVay, then an offensive coordinator in Washington, and made him the youngest coach hired in the NFL since 1938.

McVay is 55-26 in the regular season, 6-3 in the playoffs and ready to coach his second Super Bowl in five seasons. He turned 36 on January 24.

“Those two risks put us where we are today,” Rams COO Demoff said.

through the rain

McVay was hired amid one of the rainiest stretches in recent Southern California history, a key period in the construction schedule that needed to be met to open the Rams’ stadium for the 2019 season.

Tied to that deadline was the Super Bowl after the 2020 season, which the NFL had planned as the first of many at the new home of the Rams and Chargers.

Rams COO Kevin Demoff records video as he talks about the construction site of SoFi Stadium in Inglewood in this file photo from July 2019. In a letter to fans, Demoff wrote that the organization continues to focus on creating “the best fan experience in the world”. (Photo by Scott Varley, Daily Breeze/SCNG)

“I remember losing sleep every night when it looked like construction was falling behind, that we weren’t going to be able to host the 2020 Super Bowl (of the season), waking up with a twitch in my eye every day. “, said Demoff. “You felt so bad for the league.

“We had stepped up to deliver this amazing stadium to host the Super Bowl and we were going to have to push it back.”

When the Rams realized they couldn’t open the building for the 2019 season, NFL owners pushed the LA Super Bowl back a year.

“We won it for 2021 and then the weather gods decided it was raining,” said Schloessman of the LA Sports and Entertainment Commission. “We have been transferred from 2021 to 2022.

“We have been blessed.”

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers won Super Bowl LV on February 7, 2021, at their home stadium in front of 24,835 spectators, a crowd significantly limited by the coronavirus pandemic.

Even that small crowd would have been impossible in California at that time; the Rose Bowl had just moved to Texas the previous month.

A year later, the largest crowd in SoFi Stadium’s brief history is expected for Super Bowl LVI at the end of a game week in pristine conditions, another reason besides business why some are finding a move from the Midwest to alluring California.

“The weather gods clearly love us,” Schloessman said.

Talk about a dream, try to make it real

Super Bowl LVI could break the record for the show’s hottest incarnation in Roman numerals – Sunday’s high is forecast for 83 degrees – but McVay found the heat in Cabo San Lucas last year after elimination of the Rams in the playoffs.

He also found his quarterback.

Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford celebrates after beating the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship Game last month at SoFi Stadium. There were many turning points that helped the Rams reach the Super Bowl this season, but it’s hard to deny the significance of their offseason trade for Stafford and the way he played during their playoff run. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

McVay and his fiancée were vacationing at the same resort where Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford and his wife were staying in January 2021. Rams left tackle Andrew Whitworth, a good friend of Stafford, was also there and encouraged coach to spend time with Stafford, someone he knew a little but not well.

Obviously, they hit it off over drinks and a chat about football by the pool.

The Rams traded their former No. 1 draft pick, quarterback Jared Goff, two first-round picks and a third-round pick to the Lions for Stafford, the quarterback they hoped could do everything he did. Well, they’re hoping for one more win this season.

During the season, they also traded for former Super Bowl MVP linebacker Von Miller and signed three-time Pro Bowl wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr.

The Rams are regularly hit for their lack of high picks on draft day, but they value proven talent over prospects who are as likely to be busts as they are stars.

“Maybe it’s not for everyone,” Demoff said. “And maybe it’s not sustainable. Maybe it doesn’t work in the long run; we seem to figure that out every year.

“But it’s working right now.”

Maybe the Rams and their fans imagined that kind of on-court success, though two Super Bowl appearances in the past four seasons is extraordinary for a team that has only played in three of the first 52 Super Bowls. .

Still, the possibility of winning a championship both in and for the Los Angeles area — in the first season, fans were allowed in SoFi Stadium, much less — is beyond most dared to dream.

Southern California’s first Super Bowl since 1993 would have been huge regardless of the participating teams, but LASEC’s Schloessman said the Rams’ involvement “takes it to a different level.”

And she’s pretty sure the ‘fairy tale’ playing out could win the hearts of even jaded locals who don’t need SoFi Stadium’s massive video screen to spot a cheesy sports movie plot. but irresistible.

“Everybody’s more excited because it’s the Rams,” she said. “A team that was there for so long. A returning team.

“It’s such a fun story, but it could be a complete Hollywood ending if they win.”

Andrea G. Henderson