As the Los Angeles Rams open training camp this week at UC Irvine, there’s a feeling that the inevitable is finally happening. The HBO cameras are in place for the next installment of “Hard Knocks.” Todd Gurley has already posed for glamour shots on Hollywood Boulevard. And Jared Goff is Tinseltown’s newest celebrity. LA is an NFL town once again.
When the Rams announced their return last April, USC welcomed the team ‘with open arms’ (Conquest Chronicles, 4/4/2016). Athletic Director Pat Haden told the LA Times, “It’s going to be real nice to call them the Los Angeles Rams again.” But is this really a surprise coming from a man who played his entire NFL career with the Rams?
At first glance, it’s easy to see why Trojan nation would celebrate the return of the Rams. A new tenant in the Coliseum will provide a huge financial boost and get the school much closer to the $270 million needed for renovations. New LED lights will likely be the most immediate benefit, giving prime time games a brighter look.
However, not everyone is thrilled by the idea of playing in the ‘Grand Old Lady.’ Some are questioning how many improvements can actually be made in the short few weeks before the start of the NFL season. A recent article in Variety magazine gave us our first indication that LA’s NFL crowd may not have much nice to say about the Rams temporary home.
Variety ‘sports’ writer Gene Maddaus described the new team as ‘stuck with a crumbling stadium,’ and went on to say that the Coliseum is in ‘such a state of decrep-itude that it’s hard to believe it can house an NFL team, even for a few years.’ He even went so far as to quote Art Modell, resurrecting the long-time NFL owner’s thoughts on playing in the Coliseum, when he said:
“Trying to put a new dress on an old hooker is not the way I want to go dancing.”
Let’s hope this isn’t a sign of how the Rams and their fans will appreciate USC’s hospitality.
Outside of stadium improvements, there are other arguments that favor the Rams return to LA. Most important among these may be the boost towards recruiting. With the Trojans sharing a stadium with a pro team, their link with the NFL will no doubt be strengthened. One can imagine the impression on a young prospect, showing up for spring workouts with a path to the NFL starting just down the hall.
Yet, even the notion of stronger recruiting can be second guessed. This isn’t the first time a college team has shared a stadium with the NFL. In fact, there’s an example less than two hours away. Ask San Diego State how much their recruiting has benefited from sharing a locker room with the Chargers. The answer might be surprising, and a little disappointing.
Perhaps those in the Rams camp are expecting USC to benefit from a larger spotlight. That through the Rams, LA will finally be the place to be for anything and everything football. But the question Trojan fans should be asking is: will it be a brighter spotlight, or a shifting spotlight?
It’s impossible to not to think back to the good old days. So much of the story during the Pete Carroll era centered around the fact that USC football was the only show in town. LA’s love affair with SC in the early 2000’s was born out of the fact it was without an NFL team. The sidelines were packed with celebrities and players were given a VIP status normally reserved for the pros. Newsflash: those days are over. SC players are college kids again.
In that April interview with the Times, Pat Haden wasn’t worried. He concluded by saying:
“I don’t think it will affect our gate at all...We have generations of Trojan fans.”
He may be right about that. Nobody questions USC’s strong tradition and the enthusiasm of its student body. And this season does bring with it a ton of excitement.
The fall calendar is highlighted by a slew of match-ups that will grab national attention. An opening act against Alabama will put the Trojans on center stage from the get-go. Yet, this schedule, compelling as it is, is another cause for concern. It’s a darn tough one. A schedule that Athlon Sports described as ‘the toughest in the nation.’
What’s worse, you can make the case that the presence of the Rams actually adds more pressure. What happens if the Trojans stumble? There will no doubt be some bumps in the road this year, but if USC really struggles, and God-forbid, falls out of the hunt for the PAC-12 South, will these ‘generations’ of fans still turn up? Or, will the living room football parties around LA move from Saturdays to Sundays?
We’re all hoping for the best. We’ve known this was coming for a long time. And there’s no doubt that USC has done the right thing embracing the arrival of the NFL. But suddenly the stakes have been raised. The Trojans are up against more than the team on the other side of the football. Get ready for a season that could shape the future of many more to come.