GRAPEVINE, Texas -- The NFL preseason schedule debuted at 3:00 p.m. Central Time on Thursday and placed the Cowboys as the first visitors to take on the new Los Angeles Rams in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Within hours, the Cowboys had comments on the anticipation they felt playing in the second-largest media market that somehow had not had an NFL team since 1994.
"It's definitely an exciting opportunity," center Travis Frederick said. "It's a chance to play in front of a new crowd and a new city. You know there's a lot of energy throughout that game. Obviously there's a lot of talk about it throughout the NFL. So, it's going to be a great platform for us."
"I think it will be a new experience and I'm excited for that," said tight end Jason Witten, who was being honored with a lifetime achievement award from Albertsons that evening. (Here, Tony Romo praises Witten ...)
Russell Maryland was a member of the '92 Cowboys, the last squad in the franchise to play out in Los Angeles, incidentally at the Coliseum. The opponent there were the Raiders, not the Rams, who the Cowboys trounced 28-13 to improve to 6-1 on a season that would end victoriously in Pasadena in Super Bowl XXVII.
Said Maryland: "One thing I remember going into the stadium and just a bunch of crazy, crazy, wild Raiders fans. It's like they were all upon you saying all kinds of pleasantries. It was a pretty rough crowd. If we were able to get into the stadium, we'd be fine and get the game on."
Unlike raucous and unwelcoming Raiders fans, the tradition of Rams fans is one with more respect for the opponent. Rather than a wretched hive of scum and villainy, the Coliseum with the Rams as tenants would be more hospitable for visiting teams. Nonetheless, Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett sees it as an optimal chance for the team to grow.
"It's a great opportunity for our team," said Garrett, who was also a member of the '92 Cowboys. "We're out there before training camp and Oxnard. It will be an exciting day for us to be out in the Coliseum and play the Rams in their first game back in Los Angeles."
The Cowboys are tentatively scheduled to open training camp on July 28 at the River Ridge Playing Fields in Oxnard, which interestingly will be the home to Rams off-season workouts. Dallas has been off-and-on summer residents of Oxnard going back to 2001. Before that, some 22 miles east on U.S.-101, the Cowboys claimed another L.A. suburb in Thousand Oaks as their training camp headquarters. From 1963-89, head coach Tom Landry refined the Cowboys into the legendary club that would post 20 consecutive winning seasons, seven NFL title game appearances, and two Super Bowl wins. His successor, Jimmy Johnson, would train Dallas for just one season before relocating the club's late summer practices to St. Edward's University in Austin, Texas.
Dallas calling California Lutheran College in Thousand Oaks home gave the club a familiarity with Los Angeles, according to former receiver Drew Pearson.
"The fact that we trained in Thousand Oaks every year, my 11 years in the NFL, we were very familiar with the L.A. area," Pearson said. "And to be playing there and have a team in that market. It was big because you knew when you played there, it can't get any bigger than New York City. So, you knew you had a lot of people watching. Even back then when the Rams were there, my first game there was in the Coliseum in an exhibition game, there was 50,000, 60,000, 70,000 people there. I don't know what the final count was."
If 50,000 fans show up to a preseason opener, even in Los Angeles, odds are they will be Cowboys fans. Because of the club training in Thousand Oaks for 27 seasons, a Fifth Column of Cowboys fans were formed. Even after the club left L.A. to hold training camp elsewhere, Maryland saw the large swath of Dallas support in that away game against the Raiders in 1992.
"We had a bunch of Cowboys fans. It was pretty crazy there. Almost everywhere we traveled to, we had a big contingent of Cowboys fans in the stadium, whether that be L.A. in the Coliseum or Arizona or New York playing the New York teams.
"We always had a good amount of Cowboys fans in the stadium. So, that made it much nicer to not give up that much of a home field advantage. We had an imported home field fans there."
"I enjoyed L.A. so much," former cornerback Everson Walls stated. "Even though my home field was astroturf with the Cowboys as well as the Giants. I always enjoyed playing out in L.A. because I loved playing on grass. I had never played a game in L.A. or California where the weather was bad. It was always a beautiful day. I like it because it equalizes the field; the wide receivers aren't nearly as fast on grass as they are on the turf. So, it gives me my brain a chance to catch up with all those fast wide receivers. So, I loved L.A."
The NFL is hoping L.A. loves the Rams along with the league's return to the area. For the Cowboys, hopefully the franchise's winning ways will also return to Los Angeles. The Cowboys are 7-6 in L.A. with a 2-1 playoff record. Dallas went 4-3 in the Coliseum while going 3-3 at Anaheim Stadium. The club played the Rams 12 times in their 13 total L.A. games.