Six years ago, upon their return to Los Angeles after a two-decade absence, the stands at UC Irvine for Rams training camp were a sea of other NFL teams’ jerseys. The Green Bay Packers, Dallas Cowboys, then-Oakland Raiders and San Francisco 49ers seemed omnipresent.
The Super Bowl effect was in full effect during Rams training camp, which concluded Wednesday.
The Rams estimated that nearly 100,000 fans had attended 10 free public workouts. Most appeared to be wearing Cooper Kupp, Aaron Donald, Matthew Stafford or Jalen Ramsey jerseys. Or T-shirts and caps commemorating the Rams’ Super Bowl LVI victory over the Cincinnati Bengals at SoFi Stadium.
“We talked so much about it in the weeks leading up to the Super Bowl: What playing the Super Bowl in Los Angeles would do. What a win would do,” said Kevin Demoff, the Rams chief operating officer. “I don’t think you can underestimate it.”
Robert Gonzalez of Culver City was among those celebrating the surge.
At a practice last week, Gonzalez held up a large, printed cutout of Kupp’s face with a crown atop his head. Kupp won the so-called Triple Crown by leading the NFL in receptions, yards receiving and touchdown catches.
After the Super Bowl victory, Gonzalez said he asked his boss at a sign company if he could purchase materials to make a few signs that featured Kupp, Donald and the Super Bowl trophy. He took them to the Rams’ victory parade, and coach Sean McVay and players acknowledged him as they passed by on buses.
“Made my heaven day,” Gonzalez said.
In 2016, Gonzalez made friendly attempts to convert Cowboys fans who attended Rams training camp and games at the Coliseum. He knew it might take a while.
“They laughed — they had a fun time with it,” Gonzalez said. “It wasn’t till we got to SoFi where everybody started to feel it and say, ‘Hey, this could work. And it’s going to take a little time.’
“But the culture is back.”
Chris Manley got a dose when he walked past stands full of Rams fans while wearing a Seattle Seahawks jersey.
Rams fans good-naturedly booed him.
“You’re going to expect to take some flak for it,” Manley said, chuckling, “but it was nothing too serious.”
Manley, a Florida native who lives in Orange County, grew up rooting for the Seahawks from afar. He purchased tickets for a 2021 Rams-Seahawks game when they went on sale and attended Rams training camp last year.
Last week, Manley was eager to greet six-time All-Pro linebacker Bobby Wagner, making his first training camp appearance with the Rams after 10 seasons with the Seahawks.
“Hey, 45, where you at?” Manley shouted when Wagner came off the field to the sideline. “Got some questions.”
It does not matter what team fans root for, according to Manley.
“We’re all here because we love the game,” he said.
Rams owner Stan Kroenke has purchased property in Woodland Hills, and he is expected to build a complex that will house the team’s football and business operations along with mixed-use development.
But the Rams are not expected to move training camp from their current set-up any time soon.
McVay said it was beneficial to get away from the team’s Thousand Oaks facility for training camp.
“You got to let your team organically come together and really become that family,” he said Wednesday. “Create those connections where I don’t think it can be forced.
“I do think that these settings allow for opportunities for that to naturally exist that maybe sometimes wouldn’t exist if you stayed back at home.”
The Rams are attempting to become the first team to win consecutive Super Bowl titles since the 2004 season, when the New England Patriots accomplished the feat. If the Rams repeat, the fan base would seemingly multiply.
Demoff was pleased by the increased fan interest during training camp, which translates to ticket and merchandise sales.
Six years in, the Rams have made strides.
“But hopefully,” Demoff said, “six years from now everything’s double.”