Seven hours prior to kickoff — well before the $50 and $60 tailgating lots were opened to the public and the first signs of barbeque smoke became apparent — Fred Canez Sr. and his two sons, Frankie and Freddie Jr., wandered the outskirts of the Coliseum, stopping every passerby in search of the closest team store.
It was time for Fred Sr. to invest in a new lid.
“This hat was sitting in my closet,” the 68-year-old explained, motioning up to a worn yellow-and-blue Los Angeles Rams cap that was every bit of 25 years old. “It’s been put away all this time since the team left. I told everyone I wasn’t going to put it on until they came back.”
Just as it did when he last put it on in 1994, the hat fit nice and snug again on Saturday morning when Fred Sr. and his boys woke up, tossed on their Goff, Gurley and Dickerson jerseys, and made the four-and-a-half hour trek from Northern California to welcome their team back home.
For many fans, the second week of the preseason was a Rams reunion 22 years in the making. And while there were plenty of folks who were lucky enough to attend last weekend’s opener as well, there didn’t appear to be much of a hangover as the party was still rocking on Saturday.
From Jack Youngblood, Deacon Jones and Eric Dickerson throwbacks to today’s Todd Gurley and Jared Goff jerseys, the Rams and their fans certainly made a statement that they are the hot ticket in Los Angeles.
“I started choking up when I walked in the gate last week,” 45-year old season-ticket holder Mark Quinn admitted. “That’s how unreal it has been.”
Quinn is one of the diehards, one who made yearly trips to St. Louis for games. The mere mention of the Vikings playoff game he attended in the 1999-2000 Super Bowl season still draws high-fives from buddies manning the grill and stocking the cooler, including Kyle Forest.
A Joplin native who was born into a family of Chiefs fans, Forest now lives in nearby Pomona and was attending his first-ever NFL game with his now hometown squad.
“I always liked the Rams since I was a kid, so it’s great the first time I get to see them is in LA,” the 27-year old said. “My family is going to give me grief as soon as they see these pictures on Facebook, though.”
Five-year-old Matthew Salas was another first-timer in attendance, clutching his dad Joe’s hand as the two headed to a tailgate party among the rows of Rams canopies on the blacktop in lively Lot 2, which runs adjacent to the Coliseum.
“I’ve been waiting for this moment for awhile,” Joe said. “(Matthew) just got over treatment this year for leukemia. He’s had it since he was 2 years old, and now he’s been in remission since May. I can’t wait for him to experience this.”
The youngster seemed to be in his glory Saturday: running around in his Adam Archuleta jersey, dishing out high-fives, just another one of the guys on this picture perfect afternoon.
A mere 200 yards away in the same lot, well over 100 Chiefs fans were soaking up the sun, playing cornhole and grilling up over 90 pounds of meat shipped directly from the Kansas City Steak Company.
Former Kansas City residents Chris Wedding and Jonathan Dillon run the official Chiefs watch group for Los Angeles-based fans and are the hosts of what looked to be one of the largest Chiefs tailgates of the afternoon.
“It’s so exciting to have football back in LA ... I like the Rams, honestly,” Dillon said. “The Chiefs will always have my heart, but the Rams will always be right there next to them.”
There was plenty to toast to pregame whether you were wearing blue and yellow or the opposing red and yellow. But as Dillon eloquently put it, “Chiefs fans and Rams fans both hate the Raiders. So we bond over that.”