Football NFL

Buffalo Stampede in Los Angeles!

At the end of the regular season last year, we knew that the Bills were scheduled to play the NFC West this year, including the Arizona Cardinals, SF 49ers, Seattle Seahawks and the St. Louis Rams.  The normal rotation would be to have two at home and two on the road.  Of course, we hoped for the Cardinals to be an away game (home for us Phoenicians) and a visit to San Francisco would be easy – plus a chance to check out their new digs.  Of course, Seattle would be a great place to visit for a game as well.  St. Louis? Not so much.

No offense, but on the surface, a visit to Missouri doesn’t seem all that attractive. Even though it was rated America’s Top Sports City in 2015 (based on collective winning percentage of sports teams), I struggle to see it as a destination game for me.

Then, in early January, it was announced that the St. Louis Rams would become the Los Angeles Rams.  No big deal – until we realized that this could be our away game this year.  Our thoughts were confirmed when the schedule came out in April!

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Flights in and out of LAX are plentiful and the Coliseum is only about 20 minutes (without traffic) from the airport.  Easy decision! LA, here we come!

Like any fan, expectations for your team at the beginning of the season are high. I was no different.  The Bills 2nd year Coach, Rex Ryan, would be more comfortable with his players and the players more comfortable with the system. On top of that, they had another year of seasoning by Tyrod Taylor and a defense ready to get back to it’s dominance from prior years. The playoffs, while never a given – especially in Buffalo, seemed almost a sure thing this year.

My expectations were quickly put in check after opening the season with a loss on the road in Baltimore 13-7. The offense clearly struggled, but the defense seemed to get back to it’s winning ways.

Then came another loss just four days later on a Thursday night at home against the division rival Jets.  The 37-31 loss made Ryan Fitzpatrick look like Tom Brady. Two losses within 4 days – each by less than a TD. Painful.

There were plenty of broken ankles from those of us, yes I said us, me included, jumping off the bandwagon. Yet another season of despair in Buffalo. Our desire to travel to see them was in the tank. Why subject ourselves to this if the team loses every time we go see them play on the road? We decided to wait it out to see if the Bills could turn it around before committing to game tickets.

NavyIn true Buffalo fashion, they made a move to instill more hope for the future.  A rare early-season firing of their OC, Greg Roman, reinvigorated the fan base, but would it help the team? They had critical back-to-back games against the Super Bowl-hyped Cardinals in Buffalo, then road trip to the Evil Empire of the Pats.

The hometown crowd welcomed them back after the long week and they destroyed the Cardinals – 33-18, intercepting Carson Palmer 4 times, including 3 in the fourth quarter alone! After the win, we were still on the fence. If they beat the Pats, we were definitely in to travel. If they get pummeled, no go. And if it was close, it was a toss-up.

Then came the magic! I don’t care if the Pats didn’t have Brady.  A win is a win – and a shutout win in New England is as good as it gets. 16-0 Buffalo! LA, here we come – again!

We flew over early Sunday morning – arriving at 9:00am.  There were plenty of Bills fans on the flight – and even more when we landed. We met a couple of guys and shared a LYFT to the Shrine Auditorium, where the LA Bills Backers set up a massive tailgate event.

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We still needed tickets, so on the ride over, we kept an eye on StubHub, SeatGeek and Craigslist. Prices a couple of weeks ago were pretty high considering the size of the stadium (90k+), so we decided to wait it out. Sure enough, prices were falling and we spotted a couple of tickets on Craigslist.  It’s not the safest, but it’s usually a pretty easy place to dump tickets at the last minute – especially if you’re going to the game and have some extras. And therefore, it’s easy to meet up with people, check the tickets and their credentials before pulling the trigger on the purchase. A win-win.

We brokered the deal and agreed to have the the guy meet up with us at the tailgate.

There were an estimated 2,700 Bills fans at the tailgate. The deal included beer, soda, water and a meal at one of the convoy of food trucks.  There were supposed to be former Bills players in attendance, but I didn’t recognize any other than this guy…a Rex Ryan “look-like”?

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The only problem with hosting a tailgate for 2,700 people? Having enough taps to keep the beers flowing on the hot 80+ degree day. The line for beer was stretched throughout the entire area with no rhyme or reason to its path. People crashed the front of the line – usually young ladies were the only ones able to cut in. The rule was, you can order as many beers as you can carry.  Not a sound strategy.

After waiting 30 minutes with little movement, my buddy Greg decided to take action. He left the tailgate to pick up a case a beer for us – including our new found friends. His plan was to come back and hand us the beers through the fence – and we’d pour them into cups.

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Sure enough, minutes later, Greg showed up, case in hand behind the bars of the parking lot next to the tailgate. A few passersby commented on the ingenuity – and even offered to buy some from him. One miscreant, walking around with a running GoPro strapped to his chest, promised to not say anything if we gave him a beer. Loser.

Another issue with Craigslist is that no deal is done until you have tickets in hand.  Since we didn’t negotiate the price, there was little reason for him to renege on the deal. After a little while, a text came in that he was at the Shrine. Score! Lower-level, 28th row, 25 yard line for $125 – well below face value.

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Another legendary fan that appeared at the tailgate was Ken Johnson, aka Pinto Ron. If you don’t know the story, just Google him. We shared some stories and I reminded him of the time I met him at the Bills vs Dolphins game in 2012. I told him he was featured in my blog post from that game – and showed him the picture of us. Then, shock and embarrassment set in.

Even looking at the tiny photo on my phone, “Ron” said – “That’s not me”. How could this be? An impostor! A stunt-double? How many people cook on the hood of a 1980 Red Pinto? That had to be him. Ron pulled over his son and wife to back up his statement. He said he has a look-alike that does the cooking – and the chef apron gave it away.  Unreal. My picture of me and Pinto Ron from my previous post is a lie! Below is the real Pinto Ron. I think.

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Part of the $45 admission price to the tailgate included a meal at one of the dozen or so Food Trucks.  We opted for the Korean Tacos from the Kogi Food Truck based on the recommendation of one of the locals.  Wise choice! A sampler combination that included three tacos – Short Rib, Spicy Pork and Chicken. Outstanding. Little did we know, this place has some national press.

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Before long, it was time for the game.

The landmark  Shrine Auditorium is about a 20 minute walk from the stadium – and you cross the picturesque USC campus. This area of LA is not the greatest – so you don’t want to stray too far from the path, but with the throngs of Bills fans making the trek, there was little chance of an issue. The USC campus is an oasis in the middle of a sea of humanity.

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Once inside, it was obvious that the Rams need a new stadium. The Coliseum is old. Not just in appearance, but functionality. The narrow walkways are choke points for the 80,000 fans trying to move around before, during and after the game. And the mid-day sun was brutal. With this being the second regular season game, they had learned some lessons from the first. Water shortages, beer shortages, heat exposure, concession issues – all part of an opening day experience that the NFL did not want to hear.

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One thing that you forget is that this building hosted the Summer Olympic games – twice! That also goes to show you how old it is – once in 1932 and once in 1984.  A reminder of days past is the Olympic Cauldron that sits at one end of the stadium.

img_3284The Coliseum was also proposed to host the games again in 2024.  Let’s hope the new Rams Stadium takes over that duty going forward.

And there’s no denying that this is the home of Champions – 11-time National Champions for that matter – the USC Trojan Football team. I wonder how Reggie Bush felt coming home for this game?

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Our seats were within the block of the guy that sold us the tickets, so there were a few Rams fans, but our section was predominantly Bills fans.  We had some good-natured fun with them – as well as the rest of the Rams fans in the area.  Never once did anyone have anything bad to say the entire day.

Just to be clear, there were plenty of Rams fans – and Eric Dickerson jerseys were everywhere, but this might have been one of the most well-attended visiting fan games I’ve seen.

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The game itself was a close one. The Bills led 16-13 at the half and 23-19 thanks to a Pick 6 in the third quarter.  With just 3:45 to play and the Rams down 23-19, the Bills sealed the deal when they stopped a fake-punt at the Rams 25 yard line. Buffalo converted the gaff into a touchdown a minute later.

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After the game, we met up my buddy Al and his crew out at their tailgate and let things wind down before we hit the airport. There were a few RVs, but this one caught my eye. Well done!

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It was a long day, but the flight home felt so much better with a W.

Finally, a successful road trip! Let’s hope this sets a new trend going forward.

 

 

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