The odd shape of the football is an anatomical phenomenon: The first ones were made by inflating the bladder of a pig.
The sport has been taking crazy bounces ever since.
Nothing was nuttier than having Los Angeles go without an NFL team for two decades. It makes ironic sense that the fulfillment of the Rams’ redux will come with tonight’s grand opening of a $5 billion stadium… that has 70,000 empty seats.
The motivation must come from within for defensive tackle Aaron Donald when he’s chasing Dallas quarterback Dak Prescott in the Rams’ season opener at SoFi Stadium.
“We need fans in there just for the excitement and for the fun of it,” said Donald, a two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year. “But ain’t nothing I can do about it.”
We feel your pain, big guy.
The COVID-19 pandemic is just one more calamity that’s beset pro football in Southern California. The record-setting rainfall of 2017 delayed last year’s expected opening of a stadium which, in another bit of irony, is covered by a translucent canopy.
You can beat the New England Patriots, but not Mother Nature.
The times that are a-changing in the NFL include the migration of several uber quarterbacks. Tom Brady, the Patriots’ four-time Super Bowl MVP, will now throw the pig bladder in Tampa Bay. Carolina star Cam Newton has relieved him in New England.
Even the Los Angeles Chargers — the Rams’ housemate at SoFi — have changed quarterbacks for the first time in 15 years. Philip Rivers, 38, departed for Indianapolis after having served as their starter for 224 regular-season games.
The Chargers apparently coveted someone with more experience, wooing the 43-year-old Brady. They had to settle for a 31-year-old youngster named Tyrod Taylor for today’s opener at Cincinnati.
The Rams were determined to become Super Bowl contenders by the time SoFi opened, giving a record-setting, four-year contract extension to 2017 Offensive Player of the Year Todd Gurley. But that approach had no legs on which to stand after the star running back’s knee went bad. The Rams released him last spring and he’s now limping for Atlanta.
They’re now building their offense around quarterback Jared Goff, who led their 2018-19 run to Super Bowl LIII. But it was as if HE had changed teams during the fall of 2019 when he completed 16 passes to the opposition. The Rams wound up missing the playoffs for the first time in Sean McVay’s four years as coach.
The new, state-of-the-art stadium does have them looking up, however.
“Everybody’s got a little pop in their step,” McVay observed — a sound they no longer have to hear from Gurley’s knees.
The arthritic Memorial Coliseum, built for the 1932 Olympic Games, had served as little more than a monument to those knees. One of its few makeovers came 36 years ago when it erected bronze statues of two nude, bronze torsos at its peristyle end for the 1984 Olympics.
Even San Marcos High graduate Terry Schroeder, the four-time water polo Olympian who posed for the male torso, grew weary of the nine-foot-high, headless sculptures.
“There’s still a sense of embarrassment when I go down to SC for a game and we go by in the van with the Pepperdine players,” said Schroeder, who’s coached the Waves for the last 27 seasons. “There’s still a sense of, ‘That’s me naked up there.’ It’s not a real comfortable feeling sometimes.”
But nothing has been comfortable at the Coliseum for a very long time.
Goff’s disposition turns sunny every time he’s under SoFi’s translucent canopy. He reacted like a kid in a candy shop when he took a stadium tour six weeks ago, gawking at both the 360-degree, dual-sided video board and the palm-tree-lined concourse.
“Wow… pretty cool… amazing,” Goff gushed. “I can’t wait to play here. I love that you can see the palm trees.
“As a quarterback, anytime it’s indoors, you love it. And it’s a little bit of both. There is that little breeze you can feel at times, but it is fairly indoors for the most part, and the ball jumps here and it feels really good.”
He has plenty of receivers who can jump to catch it, too. Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp took their catches for more than 1,000 yards each last year. Goff is also feeling the cool draft of second-round pick Van Jefferson, a star receiver from Florida who drew rave reviews in training camp.
The Rams got serious about their defense, as well, by signing Jalen Ramsey to a five-year extension worth $105 million. No defensive back has ever been paid more. It’s no time to go cheap, after all, when your new home costs more than the Taj Mahal.
But SoFi isn’t just a football stadium. It also will be the site of WrestleMania 37 next March, and for both the soccer and archery competitions during the 2028 Olympic Games.
It’s also an entertainment center and master-planned neighborhood. A casino became the first establishment to operate at the site four years ago.
“It’s truly unbelievable,” Goff said, “and truly one of the crown jewels in sports right now.”
When you spend $5 billion, after all, you’re not buying a pig in a poke.