Monday, December 11, 2017
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

L.A. to Rams: It's time to show us what you've got

Welcome back, NFL. Welcome home, Rams. Welcome, maybe, Chargers.

Now get to work, all of you.

Certainly, it's worth celebrating Tuesday's vote by the NFL owners to approve the return of this country's national pastime to Los Angeles after a 21-year absence.

It's perfect that the first team back will be the Rams, this city's first professional champion, its first love.

It's interesting that the Chargers, born here, have the approval to possibly become a second team in the proposed Inglewood sports palace.

But, dear football folks, this town doesn't throw parades for just showing up.

The sports landscape around here has changed dramatically in the last two decades, and there are some things you should know.

First, we didn't ask you to come back. Oh, we may have whined occasionally during Super Bowl weeks, but we didn't hold giant rallies or send emotional letters or really miss you that much. We play fantasy football, we watch DirecTV, we drive to Las Vegas for a three-team parlay. We've had our fill of the NFL without actually having a team.

Live football? We've fallen in love all over again with the pro-style programs at USC and UCLA, just check attendance figures.

Sundays? We've done just fine watching the Dodgers on Sunday afternoons in the fall and the Lakers on Sunday nights in the winter.

Second, we're not paying for you to come back. Every place else you've gone, the grateful locals have slipped you a few bucks to show up, but not here, not even close, which is probably why it took 21 years for you to return.

We didn't pry open civic pocketbooks or agree to any special taxes like some of those other smaller towns. We're sophisticated enough to understand that you're not a hospital or firehouse, that billionaires shouldn't need handouts to bankroll their pigskin parties.

So understand first that you're here because you want to be here and because you think you can make money here, not because anybody was dying to see you again. Consider yourself lucky to be back on our turf. And while you're here, you'll have to play by our three simple rules:

You must win. You must entertain. You must do both with the sort of decency and integrity that makes us feel comfortable enduring long lines of traffic, long lines at bathrooms, and mosh pits in parking lots for a chance to watch you play.

Sports is not our obligation, it's our entertainment, and when the fun stops, we stop showing up. You lose, we're gone. You take us for granted, we're gone.

We don't owe you cheers — even Kobe Bryant has been booed here.

Watching the NFL march back through our door is like watching the return of a quiet, beloved relative who left home to become rich and famous. Now that he's back and wants everyone to join his party, well, hmmm.

When the Rams left town, they were viewed as a sweet neighborhood operation whose players weren't too proud to participate in an infamously corny music video — "Let's Ram It!" — and whose most ardent fans wore watermelons on their heads. But these Rams are coming back as an ATM for the reticent Stan Kroenke, and are a team that hasn't made the playoffs in 11 years.

The Rams' evolution has mirrored that of its league. The NFL has become the biggest and coldest of businesses, run by owners who have trivialized domestic abuse, covered up the effect of concussions, and mishandled legitimate cheating allegations against its most celebrated player, all in the last couple of seasons.

The NFL has become a shared experience like none other in sports, with a unique ability to connect even the most diverse neighborhoods in a weekly experience that for its most ardent fans has become sacred habit. Because it is as powerful on television as it is in person, because it owns every Sunday between September and February, and because its players represent helmeted superheroes unlike those found in any other league, the NFL owns the sports landscape in nearly every community it exists.

Welcome back, NFL. Now make us glad we missed you.

Los Angeles Times (TNS)

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