Blue-and-gold day in LA as Rams come home after 22 years

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LOS ANGELES (AP) — From the morning when the first tailgaters arrived to the evening and a game-winning drive, the Rams gave Los Angeles fans that old NFL feeling back.

There was no Deacon or Dickerson, and the old familiar blue and yellow were replaced with St. Louis gold, navy and white, but the horns on the helmets were the same, and so was the name: "Ladies and gentlemen, it is time to welcome home to the LA Coliseum, YOUR Los Angeles Rams!" the announcer shouted, bringing a roar the local crowd hasn't been able to let loose since 1994.

Even an opening kickoff return for a touchdown by the Dallas Cowboys' Lucky Whitehead in Saturday's preseason opener for both teams couldn't kill the mood, and many late-arriving LA fans missed that anyway.

The Rams' first touchdown in their new-old town, a 14-yard run by Benny Cunningham, brought another huge roar from the crowd of 89,140, as though it finally made the move official.

"It was a great feeling," Cunningham said.

The game-winning drive, capped by a touchdown pass from Sean Mannion to Aaron Green, gave the Rams a 28-24 victory and the crowd an even bigger charge.

"Celebrating a new era of NFL football in Los Angeles, we deserve it!" yelled Rachel Barbosa, 40, tailgating outside the Coliseum, where the unmistakable smell of sausages and beer marking an NFL game day hung in the air.

Her tailgate-party partner Rose Gonzalez turned 41 on Saturday and the old-school Rams fan couldn't believe she was getting such a sweet gift.

"Wouldn't want to spend my birthday any other way," Gonzalez said.

Rams jerseys from all eras of the team filled the streets and parks around the Coliseum, the Rams traditional home, though the gates and snack stands still bear the red and gold of the permanent tenant, USC. The Rams will play here while their permanent home is built in nearby Inglewood.

LA fans also had to face the other side of the NFL experience, which they hadn't missed as much: Weekend traffic that felt like weekday rush hour, sky-high parking prices, and shouting matches with hardcore Cowboy fans.

And the city's new Expo Line light rail train that stops at the Coliseum was as packed and sweaty as a subway train bound for Yankee Stadium.

But nearly everyone took it all in stride, and smiles abounded.

There might have been no one happier than Douglas Aziz.

"I moved here from Toronto in 1994 because I was a Rams fan," said Aziz, who wore an old-school Deacon Jones No. 75 jersey with his long white hair.

"That was the year they left." He had a gleam in his eye and an ear-to-ear grin at the thought of finally seeing his own team in his hometown 22 year later.

"It's incredible," he said.

Aziz came to the game with his two young-adult sons, Cameron and Colin. Cameron has been a longtime NFL fan, but is now a newly adopted Rams fan and holder of many season tickets.

"I got eight!" he said, and he plans to hold on to them for decades to come. He sold the five he wasn't using for this game for a total of $800, he said.

"For a preseason game!" he said in disbelief.

For other fans it was a return to old traditions.

Russel Nadel and his wife came to Rams games in the Coliseum in the 1970s, and to the teams' games in Anaheim in the 80s and early 90s.

"We've been going to San Diego for games, to see the Chargers, because it was the best we could do," he said.

But they never became more than lukewarm Chargers fans.

Today, they were overjoyed to give their full affection to a team again.

"It's a special day," he said.


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