Thursday, September 15, 2016

How Long It's Been: An NFL Game Was Played In Los Angeles

This Sunday, the restored Los Angeles Rams will host the Seattle Seahawks at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. It will be their 1st game in the L.A. area since they moved to St. Louis after the 1994 season, having moved back after 21 seasons.

In their last game in the L.A. area, on Christmas Eve, December 24, 1994, they lost to the Washington Redskins, 24-21 at Anaheim Stadium, and finished 4-12. Only 25,705 came out, the smallest crowd in Rams' history, aside from their 1 home game during the "scab games" of the 1987 strike.

On the same day, the Raiders lost to the Kansas City Chiefs, 19-9 at the Coliseum. Their attendance was much better: 64,130. They soon moved back to their original hometown, Oakland.

The last big crowd in L.A. football history was on November 13, when the Rams played the Raiders at Anaheim: 65,208. The Raiders won, 20-17. The L.A. edition of the Raiders finished 4-1 against the Rams.

Why did they move? Both teams were upset with their leases. There were also secondary excuses. The L.A. Coliseum was built in 1923, didn't have modern amenities, was damaged in the Northridge Earthquake at the beginning of 1994, and is on the edge of the South Central ghetto. Anaheim Stadium was a baseball stadium that had football bleachers added, and as a result wasn't really all that good for either sport. It's also 28 miles from downtown L.A., nearly 3 times as far as the Coliseum. And the only other stadiums in the L.A. area that were large enough were Dodger Stadium (designed for baseball, no pro football team has ever called it home) and the Rose Bowl in Pasadena (a few months older than the Coliseum, and not really suitable for NFL games, which is why it hosted 5 Super Bowls, but none since 1993).

The Rams' last previous game at the Coliseum was on December 16, 1979, a 29-14 loss to the New Orleans Saints, in front of 53,879. They actually got to the Super Bowl, but, while their 9-7 record was good enough to win the NFC Western Division, it meant that they had to go on the road for their Playoff games. They went to Irving, Texas and beat the Dallas Cowboys, then to Tampa and beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Ironically, they became the 1st team ever to have a Super Bowl "at home," as Super Bowl XIV was scheduled for the Rose Bowl in Pasadena. But they lost it to the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Both teams underachieved in Los Angeles. In 49 years, the Rams made the NFL or NFC Playoffs 21 times, but none in their last 5 seasons; won the NFL or NFC Western Division 14 times, but none in their last 9 seasons; reached the NFL Championship Game only 5 times (the last in Super Bowl XIV, in the 1979-80 season, their last at the Coliseum before moving to Anaheim), and won only 1 NFL Championship, in 1951. In 13 seasons in L.A., the Raiders made the Playoffs 7 times, won the AFC West 4 times, and reached Super Bowl XVIII, winning it.

But in nearly half a century, despite their huge population base, all the money in Southern California that could have been spent on the teams, all the media attention, and all the potential for success -- including having 2 teams for the last 13 seasons -- Los Angeles has only ever won the NFL Championship twice, in the 1951 and 1983 seasons. Just the 1 in the last 64 years (44 seasons). Judging by the 28-0 egg they laid against their restored arch-rivals, the San Francisco 49ers, on their Monday Night Football-set return last night, the Rams aren't going to be adding another this season.

There hasn't been a regular-season National Football League game played in, or around, the City of Los Angeles since December 24, 1994. When they kick off on Sunday, it will have been 21 years, 8 months and 25 days. How long has that been?

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Since the Rams and Raiders skedaddled, the Cleveland Browns have become the Baltimore Ravens and been replaced, the Houston Oilers have become the Tennessee Titans, the Houston Texans have been established to replace the Oilers, and the Carolina Panthers and Jacksonville Jaguars have also been established.

In other sports, the Montreal Expos have become the Washington Nationals, the Vancouver Grizzlies have been established and become the Memphis Grizzlies, the Charlotte Hornets have become the New Orleans Hornets and the New Orleans Pelicans, the Charlotte Bobcats have been established and become the new Charlotte Hornets, the Seattle SuperSonics have become the Oklahoma City Thunder, the Quebec Nordiques have become the Colorado Avalanche, the Winnipeg Jets have become the Phoenix Coyotes and now the Arizona Coyotes, the Hartford Whalers have become the Carolina Hurricanes, the Atlanta Thrashers have been established and become the new Winnipeg Jets, and the Tampa Bay Rays, Arizona Diamondbacks, Toronto Raptors, Nashville Predators, Minnesota Wild, Columbus Blue Jackets, and the as-yet-unnamed Las Vegas NHL team have been established.

The Denver Broncos, the New England Patriots, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Seattle Seahawks, the New Orleans Saints, the Colts since moving to Indianapolis, had never won a Super Bowl. The Rams had won an NFL Championship, but not in the Super Bowl era. The Buccaneers, the Oilers/Titans, the Browns/Ravens, the Panthers, the Seahawks, the Saints, the Colts since moving to Indy, the San Diego Chargers, the Atlanta Falcons, the Arizona Cardinals had never been in one. All those facts have since changed.

Only 9 NFL stadiums in use in 1994 are in use in 2016: The L.A. Coliseum, the Oakland Coliseum, Lambeau Field in Green Bay, New Era Field (then Rich Stadium) outside Buffalo, Hard Rock Stadium (then Joe Robbie Stadium) outside Miami, Qualcomm Stadium (then Jack Murphy Stadium) in San Diego, the Superdome in New Orleans, Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, and the Georgia Dome in Atlanta. Next year, when the Falcons move into Mercedes-Benz Stadium, the number will drop to 8.

The defining players of my childhood were all gone, as Joe Montana had just played his last game. The current holder of the Heisman Trophy, Derrick Henry of the University of Alabama, now with the Tennessee Titans, was 5 months old.

The Rams' coach at the time was Chuck Knox. He was fired after the season, and, despite being a 3-time Coach of the Year, has never worked in the NFL again. He is still alive, at the age of 83.

Terry Collins was the manager of the Houston Astros. Alain Vigneault was an assistant coach with the Ottawa Senators. Jack Capuano was an assistant coach with the Tallahassee Tiger Sharks. Todd Bowles was out of football, and looking for a coaching job, which he would get the next season. Joe Girardi was playing for the Colorado Rockies. Jeff Hornacek was playing for the Utah Jazz. Kenny Atkinson was playing pro basketball in Spain. John Hynes was playing hockey at Boston University. And Ben McAdoo was playing football in high school.

The Heavyweight Champion of the World was George Foreman. Yes, you read that right: Big George had recently regained the title at age 45. The defending World Champions in the Big Four sports were the Dallas Cowboys, the Houston Rockets, the New York Rangers (ugh), and, because the 1994 postseason had been canceled, baseball's World Championship was still held by the team that won the World Series in 1992 and 1993, the Toronto Blue Jays.

The World Cup had just been held in America. It has since been held in France, Japan, Korea, Germany, South Africa and Brazil. The Olympics have since been held in America (twice), Japan, Australia, Greece, Italy, China, Canada, Britain, Russia and Brazil.

The President of the United States was Bill Clinton. Hillary Clinton was the First Lady. Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, their wives, and the widow of Lyndon Johnson were still alive. (The Carters and that set of Bushes still are.) George W. Bush had just been elected Governor of Texas. Barack Obama was a lawyer at a firm fighting for social justice -- yes, a "community organizer." Joe Biden was in the U.S. Senate. Tim Kaine had just been elected to the City Council in Richmond, Virginia. Mike Pence had just started a radio talk show, calling himself "Rush Limbaugh on decaf." The station was located in, oddly enough, Rushville, Indiana. Donald Trump was... probably screwing somebody over.

The Mayor of Los Angeles was Richard Riordan, the Governor of California was the newly re-elected Pete Wilson, New York Governor Mario Cuomo had just been defeated by George Pataki, the Mayor of the City of New York was Rudy Giuliani, and the Governor of New Jersey was Christine Todd Whitman.

Of the current holders of those offices: Eric Garcetti was a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University, while his father Gil was the District Attorney for the County of Los Angeles, overseeing, among other cases, the murder case against O.J. Simpson; Jerry Brown was between political jobs, and had just seen Wilson smear and defeat his sister Kathleen in the Governor's race; Andrew Cuomo was Assistant Secretary of Housing & Urban Development, and would become full Secretary in Bill Clinton's 2nd term; Bill de Blasio had just managed the re-election campaign of Congressman Charlie Rangel; and Chris Christie was a partner at a law firm in Cranford, New Jersey.

Only 4 Justices then on the Supreme Court are still on it today: Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and the recently-appointed Stephen Breyer. Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres and Yasser Arafat had just been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. For all the good that did. The Pope was John Paul II. The monarch of Britain was Queen Elizabeth II -- that hasn't changed -- and the Prime Minister was John Major, and of Canada Jean Chretien. Manchester United had won "The Double," taking both the Premier League and the FA Cup the previous spring, but would finish runners-up in each in the season now underway.

Novels of 1994 that became major motion pictures included Captain Corelli's Mandolin by Louis de Bernieres, Disclosure by Michael Crichton, The Ice Storm by Rick Moody and The Celestine Prophecy by James Redfield. Elizabeth Wurtzel published the year's leading non-fiction book, Prozac Nation. None of the Harry Potter or A Song of Ice and Fire books had yet been published.

Major films out in December of 1994 included the aforementioned DisclosureCobb (with Tommy Lee Jones as Ty Cobb, not so much a film about baseball as one about an old man facing mortality and considering his reputation), Legends of the Fall (not about baseball, or football for that matter), Dumb and Dumber (also not about football), Nell, a version of Little Women starring Winona Ryder and Susan Sarandon, a film version of the video game Street Fighter (starring Raúl Juliá as villain M. Bison in his final film), and, filmed in Princeton, New Jersey, I.Q. starring Walter Matthau as Albert Einstein.

The Number 1 song in America was "Here Comes the Hotstepper" by Ini Kamoze. TLC had recently released their landmark album CrazySexyCool. Michael Jackson and Elvis' daughter Lisa Marie Presley were, as it turned out, right in the middle of their marriage, and in the middle of the first round of child abuse accusations against him. The surviving members of the Beatles were working on the Beatles Anthology project. Bob Dylan was in the middle of a break in his "Never Ending Tour." Frank Sinatra had just released Duets II -- his 57th and final album -- and his health had begun to fail, leading to his last concert, on February 25, 1995, in his adopted hometown of Palm Springs, California.

The 1st smartphone, the 1st bluetooth, and the 1st Nintendo PlayStation had all been introduced in 1994. And many people (myself included) heard the words "the Internet" for the 1st time. But tablet computers, Wikipedia, iPods, Skype, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Tumblr, iPhones, Pinterest, Instagram, iPads and Vine were all still in the future.

Kanye West, Kourtney Kardashian and Pink were in high school. Kim Kardashian, Christina Aguilera, Alicia Keys, Jessica Alba, Natalie Portman, Chris Evans, Beyonce Knowles, Britney Spears, Kate Middleton, Hayley Atwell and Kirsten Dunst were in junior. (As Prince William would have been, had he not been a royal.) Matt Smith and Anne Hathaway were 12. Khloe Kardashian and Prince Harry were 10. Lady Gaga, Drake and Emilia Clarke were 8, and Kit Harington turned 8 just days later. Rob Kardashian and Kevin Jonas were 7. Rihanna and Emma Stone were 6. Daniel Radcliffe and Joe Jonas were 5. Emma Watson and Sarah Hyland were 4. The date of the last previous regular-season NFL games was the 3rd birthday of Louis Tomlinson. Selena Gomez, Demi Lovato, Nick Jonas, Miley Cyrus and Nicki Minaj were 2. Zayn Malik and Ariana Grande were a year and a half. Liam Payne and Niall Horan were 1. Harry Styles was 10 months old, Justin Bieber 9 months. Kendall Jenner, Sophie Turner, Abigail Breslin, Maisie Williams, Kylie Jenner, Ariel Winter, Rico Rodriguez and Nolan Gould weren't born yet.

In December 1994, the Australia government agreed to pay reparations to indigenous Australians who were displaced due to nuclear tests in the 1950s and '60s. The Mexican government devalued their peso, causing a financial crisis requiring that the U.S. government bail it out. The 1st version of Netscape Navigator was released. And Webster Hubbell pled guilty to counts of wire fraud and tax fraud, related to the Whitewater scandal.

Dean Rusk, and Antonio Carlos Jobim, and Yankee Monument Park honoree Allie Reynolds died. Jake T. Austin, and Raheem Sterling, and, on the very day in question, Colorado Rockies pitcher Miguel Castro were born.

December 24, 1994. The Los Angeles Rams lost to the Washington Redskins at Anaheim Stadium (now Angel Stadium of Anaheim), and the Los Angeles Raiders lost to the Kansas City Chiefs at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

Now, this coming Sunday, nearly 22 years after it last happened, a regular-season National Football League game will be played in the Los Angeles metropolitan area, as the Coliseum hosts the restored Los Angeles Rams against the Seattle Seahawks.

The last few years the 'Hawks have been championship contenders, while the Rams have struggled. We shall see if L.A. fans think regaining an NFL team was worth it.

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