I've been continually surprised for the last eight months at the seemingly immediate and near-complete embrace of the Los Angeles Rams by Angelenos. Before the announced move, I figured everyone in L.A. already had an affinity for one team, often based on where they were from. The Rams returning to L.A.? Who cares?
I couldn't have been more wrong.
Across the city I've seen Rams jerseys and hats pop up in stores, from the airport to Universal CityWalk. I see Rams jerseys in restaurants and Rams hats on Lyft drivers.
Yes, I've seen them across West Hollywood and Silver Lake, in gay bars from Faultline to The Abbey, as well. The gays are embracing the Rams' return just like everybody else.
The fans from across the city poured out for the team's two home preseason games, setting an attendance record for their return to the Coliseum against the Dallas Cowboys. I got to attend their second game, against the Kansas City Chiefs, and I was amazed at how many Rams jerseys -- many of them old-school from their first Los Angeles stint over 20 years ago -- were walking around the concourse.
What I really didn't imagine was how many of those jerseys and hats would find their ways into West Hollywood. WeHo has become the gayest neighborhood in the country, with gay bars, restaurants and businesses lining Santa Monica Blvd. wall-to-wall for many blocks, crosswalks painted in rainbows. While the tight tanktops haven't gone away, they're now warmly joined by Rams apparel. Whether it's at the Abbey for Sunday Funday, Revolver for Billy Francesca's very happy hour, or dancing to the closing tunes of Micky's, I've seen Rams hats, shirts and jerseys.
The Rams have looked at their return to Los Angeles as an opportunity to continue the team's embrace of diversity, Molly Higgins, the Rams vice-president of community affairs and engagement, told me. The same team that signed the first post-Depression-era black player in the NFL -- Kenny Washington in 1946 -- was the same team that drafted the first openly gay player, Michael Sam.
"As it relates to the LGBT community, it won't be a focus that will need to be manufactured with the move to a more diverse community," Higgins said. "It's a focus that has always existed internally and now we have an opportunity to better show the world who we are as an organization. As a member of the LGBT community, I know our interest in the pursuit of equality is authentic and it's integrated into our overall organizational strategy. We value diversity and believe we are a stronger team because of it."
The affinity for the Rams in the LGBT community has not needed to be manufactured either.
"I grew up in Los Angeles," said entrepreneur Brian Pendleton, who bought four season tickets with his husband, Radical Element swimwear founder Chad Goldman. "I've always been generally a football fan, I'm just glad there's finally a football team back in my hometown. My husband is, by default, a football fan coming form the University of Tennessee. So it made tons of sense to us."
While Pendleton's been out of town for the preseason, he's headed to the store tomorrow to deck himself out in a Rams hat and shirt of their season opener against the Seattle Seahawks this Sunday.
Not every gay Rams fan grew up with the team.
"I've relinquished all of my other football teams," said real estate agent Dax Bauser, who bought two season tickets with his husband, Ryan. "Growing up in New York I went for both the Jets and the Giants. The idea that there's a team in L.A. now? They're my team."
While the return to Los Angeles has drawn in both of these men, and no doubt the imagination of so many Angelenos living in a city without the NFL since 1995, the team will need to, over time, do better than a 28-0 drubbing to keep them paying the high ticket prices for those home games.
"Do they need to be a winning team for me to be interested?" Pendleton asked. "No. Do they need to be a winning program over time for me to spend the money I did to attend games? Probably. I don't have great seats, and I paid a lot for them. If it's not going to be a winning program, I won't be in it at that level for many years."
Still, for those who do end up with Rams game tickets, it can be a great experience that goes beyond just the game.
My husband, Dan, and I spent half of a weekend Downtown to attend the Rams' preseason game, and we were blown away by how cool Downtown has become. Sure, Bar Mattachine -- a gay establishment floating somewhere between a neighborhood bar and small club -- has been a draw for many over the last year, and Precinct DTLA has been attracting a late-night dance crowd for a while, not to mention the occasional parties at the Mayan or Exchange LA (who's going to Halloweenie?!).
Beyond the growing gay nightlife Downtown, we were impressed by some really good food (the food at Broken Spanish, and the drinks at Otium, were awesome). I know we'll head back for another game at some point to spend the weekend dancing at Mattachine and cheering on the (I still stutter when I say it) Los Angeles Rams.