The NFL is coming back to Los Angeles.
Even though the decision to return professional football to LA was made by a bunch of billionaires, the real impact will be on the citizens of our great city in the years and (hopefully) decades to come. New groups of children growing up fans of the LA Rams and someday bringing children of their own to Inglewood for the NFL experience.
No question about it, 21 years is a long time to wait. Over that span an entire generation of Angelenos grew up without a local professional football team.
As a kid I was lucky enough to live in a suburb of Pittsburgh during the Steelers run of Super Bowls in the 1970's. After we moved to Massachusetts Patriots games were easier to get to and I was even able to check out the Boston Breakers of USFL fame play.
My first NFL experience in LA came on January 13, 1991. I was a sophomore engineering student at USC and that Sunday afternoon I was in our living room at Century apartments with friends watching the Los Angeles Raiders host the Cincinnati Bengals in the NFL playoffs.
As things got started it donned on me that this game was physically taking place a short walk from where we were watching it on television.
Now financially I was never on par with some of my classmates at USC. I was on a partial scholarship and had a part time job every semester in an attempt to keep my student loan debt down. I never seemed to have the discretionary funds to go buy CDs, see a movie or go out to eat. My student ID got me all you can eat meals in the dining halls (and the fabled freshman 15) and any work study money left over was usually spent on beer.
With no car or cash, my East Coast transplanted self was going to have to wait to have any of those magical LA experiences you see in the movies. By then the Los Angeles Rams were playing in Anaheim, which might of well have been Alaska for my non-ambulatory self. That left the Raiders as my best shot for expanding my horizons.
As we sat on that uncomfortable brown dorm couch watching the kickoff on a tube TV, I somehow knew I needed to be in that stadium.
After proposing to the group my spontaneous intentions to see the game in person, only my friend Paul, a blonde haired, blue eyed So Cal native from La Canada was inclined to put down his Meister Brau (they were $8 a case at the old 3-2 Market) and walk over to the game.
Now on a mission, I grabbed whatever cash I had (what's another month of student loan payments in the grand scheme of things) and we hightailed it towards Exposition Park.
Executing the purchase of nose bleed tickets from a scalper for an NFL playoff game is much easier to do, and much cheaper, towards the end of the first quarter.
As we emerged from the Coliseum tunnel I will never forget the unfamiliar feeling we had, despite being in the same building that we had witnessed about a dozen Saturday afternoon USC games over the past two seasons.
But it wasn't Saturday and this wasn't the cardinal and gold Trojans, it was a playoff Sunday in the Black Hole.
There was no student section cut out in a perfect geometrical shape with pompoms bouncing to the tune of the USC marching band. No blonde Song Girls in legendary fuzzy white sweaters and short skirts high kicking for the crowd. And certainly no one wearing Ben-Hur gear brandishing a shiny sword galloping around the track on a white horse.
In the middle of the first Gulf War and about a year before the LA Riots, tensions in the city were high. Walking into a stadium full of silver and black-clad Raiders fans, with just about every gang affiliation represented, instantly put us on high alert.
We were strangers in a strange land and we had no idea what to expect.
The seats for the tickets we purchased were unmemorable and early on we decided to test our luck and hop around the stadium. At each stop we met interesting and intimidating characters, yet every one of them was nice to us when they found out we were not rooting for the enemy.
One of the more memorable Raiders fans we met was a gentlemen of significant size, somewhere north of 300 pounds, sporting a black Raiders hardhat and a t-shirt that simply said, "F@#% IRAQ."
Our new patriotic Latino friend would join us watching the various fights that would break out around the stadium, trying to determine who was participating, why they were fighting and how far it was going to spill over into the rest of the crowd.
Soon after that we felt like we had been accepted into some sort of an exclusive club once another member of the silver and black offered us a joint (we did not partake).
The Raiders went on to win 20-10. Bo Jackson dislocated his hip, prematurely ending his football career. Marcus Allen ran for 140 yards on 21 carries. Ickey Woods had 73 yards on 11 carries but no touchdowns or Ickey Shuffle dances. Jay Schroeder outdueled Boomer Esiason. Greg Townsend had three sacks and Howie Long had one. Riki Ellison was the starting middle linebacker for the Raiders and Don Mosebar started at center.
Around 25 years later I may not remember any of the stats (had to look those up), but I do remember being at Bo Jackson's last game in an NFL uniform and more importantly I remember the people we met and the experiences we had in the Coliseum that afternoon.
To this day I am thankful I put down that cheap beer and instead watched a glorious 45 minutes of NFL playoff football live and in person.
But it makes me wonder, how many stories like this have Angelenos missed out on over the past couple of decades?
Thankfully, with professional football returning to the Southland, we won't be missing those stories any longer.