For my entire childhood, I saw football as something to endure while I waited for The Simpsons to come on. My uncle said I had the hands of a wide receiver; I learned to play the piano instead. When my friend Ashton threw a Super Bowl party at the height of the Dallas Cowboys ’90s — we lived in New Jersey, and I couldn’t understand why everyone was rooting for Texas — I was bored as soon as I’d tried all the snacks. I don’t recall ever throwing a decent spiral, not even with that space-age Nerf Vortex.
I made the cross-country leap from New York at the very start of 2016, arriving in Los Angeles on January 10, two days before NFL owners voted to restore the Rams to the city. As far as I knew at the time, they’d always been a St. Louis brand, with no historical connection to Southern California. So this seemed fairly arbitrary or under-motivated, the way that all sports league changes do in the light of my lack of interest. But I did enjoy the idea of a team picking up and making the same abrupt move I had.
I doubt I considered the Rams again until that fall, after I’d gotten the hang of the freeways and staked out loyalties to my favorite taco trucks. It was on September 12th, in Ye Rustic Inn, a beloved Los Feliz bar I frequented for its chicken wings. At this point I was capably dodging their weekly bingo and trivia nights, so I was shocked to find it crowded this particular Monday evening. And then it dawned on me: fucking football. The L.A. Rams were getting trashed by the San Francisco 49ers in the season opener. And every goddamn dude in the place was wearing 49ers gear. They clapped and roared as the span of the blowout steadily rose. Not a single Rams shirt in sight.
I won’t claim to have a tried-and-true moral compass, but I realized something was wrong. You could feel it in the dim, beery air. What is a team without a fanbase? Only ghosts. As I left to find a quieter drinking spot, I vowed to act. The next day, I did:
A small gesture, there’s no denying that. Nobody even liked the tweet. “Good,” I thought. The L.A. Rams were underdogs, and that’s exactly who I wanted to root for. (While ignoring football in my youth, I did revel in the scrappiness of the Mets and the Nets, witnessing some of their improbable comebacks firsthand.) The Rams could lose every single game and I’d only love them more. There was just one problem: I still didn’t enjoy watching football, and had the most tenuous possible grasp of how it really works.
Players, coaches, injuries, schedules — I had no desire to glean these details. Which meant my support would be unconditional and pure, a commitment to Ramdom itself.
Then the unthinkable happened: The Rams won their second game, toppling the Seattle Seahawks. Again, I hadn’t watched the game. But learning the outcome later on, more or less by accident, gave me a jolt of happiness. Maybe it had to do with living in a neighborhood with multiple crystal shops, this feeling that I’d been repaid for the positive energy I’d put out. My friend Spike is the biggest Seattle fan I know, and I had to brag.
Then, just like that, the Rams thread took off. Somewhere along the way, I let my syntax and spelling degrade, as though the more I cheered the Rams, the stupider I became. In this newfound shitposting voice, my total ignorance of football (and my chosen team) became part of a running joke. And no matter how badly they played, I adored them. People started sending me Rams news and updates, seeking some kind of reaction. The roller-coaster season included a DUI charge for cornerback Troy Hill, a few heartbreaking last-minute losses, and the firing of hapless head coach Jeff Fisher.
Then, in January, I faced the greatest test yet of my Rams allegiance: The Chargers would be moving to L.A. as well — and their unpopularity appeared inevitable. Would it be funny, in Twitter megathread terms, to abandon the Rams after a single bad season? Or was it better to be totally, idiotically wedded to a crappy Rams team, no matter what?
In retrospect, there could have been no other answer. When you’re with a team, you’re with them for life. No takebacks. No bandwagons. I continued to update through the Rams-less offseason, into the spring and summer, and toward their glorious return.
As I write this, the Rams are first place in the NFC West (yes, I do check the standings now), having gone 2–1 with a thrilling win over the 49ers last night. That this was the team I saw my Rams lose to an entire year ago, baffled to be in an L.A. bar where everyone wanted San Francisco to win — that they were directly responsible for the moment I said “no more” — strikes me as poetic symmetry. As it happens, I tried to watch the final quarter of this game, but without cable, I had to keep refreshing the score on my phone. Is this what it’s like to be a football fan? To know that regardless of where life takes you or the team, you will always want them to vanquish their enemies? To feel that when they pull off an upset, you, too, will surprise everyone soon enough?
If so, I suppose I’ve found my one true path through the mystifying and mangled culture of the NFL. I hear the sport has a lot of problems that ought to give any follower pause. I hope, with all due naiveté, that the league can stamp out corruption and rise to an ethical maturity — but not for the good of football itself. I just want the best for the Rams.