Bucs from Los Angeles happy to see Rams back home
TAMPA -- The NFL is back in Los Angeles after 22 years, and as the Rams come to town for Sunday's home opener, it's a new world for Bucs players who grew up in Los Angeles, rooting for the Lakers and Dodgers and little else.
"It's really cool, and I hope it lasts. I think it will," said safety Chris Conte, who was born and raised in the Santa Monica/Malibu area. "Hopefully it will. Whenever there's something new in L.A., everybody starts to buzz, but give it a week or two, it dies down pretty quickly. There's something new going on."
Conte and Bucs backup quarterback Ryan Griffin were teammates at Loyola High School in Los Angeles, and at one point went up against Bucs center Joe Hawley in a state playoff game when he played at Esperanza High in Anaheim.
Hawley grew up a Packers fan because his father was from Green Bay, and Conte didn't go to an NFL game until he was in college. Griffin said he's pulling for NFL success in Los Angeles, just to see football do well back home.
"I don't want them to win this week, but something inside of me kind of hopes they do decently well, just so the level of excitement for football remains in L.A.," Griffin said. "It's awesome having a professional team there. Football in general, you could be a professional football player and walk down the street in L.A. and no one really cares. There's something else going on, there's celebrities everywhere. It'll be good for the city."
Griffin's mother is from Dallas, and his father convinced her to move to Los Angeles by taking her to Cowboys training camp in Thousand Oaks, northwest of Los Angeles.
"We went to Cowboys training camp when I was a kid all the time," said Griffin, whose first NFL game was a Cowboys game in Dallas when he was 10. "We would go, but it's still not the same thing."
Bucs cornerback Alterraun Verner is from Lakewood and went to UCLA, and punter Bryan Anger grew up west of Los Angeles in Camarillo, rooting for USC and UCLA and hoping to play for the Dodgers, even into his junior year of high school.
"We got our fill with college teams," said Anger, whose first NFL game was his debut with the Jaguars in 2012. "I have a couple of aunts and uncles that are old Rams fans, and hearing from them, it was cool back in the day. Seeing new stadium plans, it'll be crowded out there. It'll be another attraction out there."
To see 90,000-plus fans packed into the Coliseum for last week's Rams home opener was an encouraging debut, rekindling the city's bond with pro football.
"I think they'll receive it well -- you saw the crowd for the first game," Anger said. "People want it. People love their sports out there, so I think they'll welcome it with open arms."