INGLEWOOD, Calif. — The Los Angeles Rams' inaugural visit to their new home was a big hit.
The Rams made their first official trip to SoFi Stadium since its completion for a scrimmage Saturday night. They checked out their new locker room and the opulent amenities beneath the stands in owner Stan Kroenke's $5 billion football palace before they marveled at the massive Oculus overhead scoreboard and tested the crisp new turf emblazoned with the Rams’ new logo at midfield.
After running a few dozen plays and working out some communications issues over 2 1/2 hours of practice, the Rams are starting to feel right at home.
“This is something spectacular,” Rams coach Sean McVay said. “Never seen anything like it. I thought it was really special just watching the players’ reactions to how magnificent this is when they got here. They can envision themselves playing here on Sundays.”
The Rams are scrimmaging at the stadium on the next two Saturdays to familiarize their players with every nuance of the building before the real games begin Sept. 13, when the Rams host the Dallas Cowboys in their Sunday night season opener and SoFi Stadium's inaugural event.
“It's truly unbelievable,” said Rams quarterback Jared Goff, one of nine players who have been with the team and anticipating this day ever since the franchise returned to Los Angeles in 2016. “It's one of the crown jewels in sports right now.”
Wearing two versions of the franchise’s new uniforms — in all-blue and in the off-white shade called bone — the Rams also got their first taste of competitive football with no fans in attendance. SoFi is ready to host fans, but it seems likely the Rams and the Los Angeles Chargers will play in an empty edifice this season, although neither team has announced its official plans.
The Rams and Chargers had to scrap two preseason home games apiece this month due to the coronavirus pandemic, making these scrimmages even more important. The Chargers will visit SoFi on Thursday.
McVay wanted his players to get used to the locker rooms and facilities inside SoFi, but more importantly the locations of the scoreboards and clocks in their new stadium before they play games that count. Looking up is always a good idea: The Oculus oval board that dangles high above the playing field glows with replays and stats on either side.
Not everything went smoothly in this dress rehearsal, however.
“We had a lot of issues with the communication on the coaches' headsets, and that's why it's really good that we're going to get a couple of trial runs on this," McVay said. "I know guys are working urgently to get that fixed.”
“It's good to get these kinks worked out now instead of Sept. 13,” Goff added.
The promise of this stadium was at the centre of the Rams' successful bid to return home to the West Coast in 2016 after a 21-year sojourn in St. Louis. Kroenke, a billionaire real estate developer married to a Walmart heiress, vowed to build a landmark arena that can serve as the NFL's West Coast hub and a major component of the sports future in North America's second-largest metropolitan area.
Located several miles south of downtown Los Angeles in Inglewood, next-door to the Fabulous Forum made famous by the Lakers, SoFi Stadium is the centerpiece of a massive development. While the stadium is finished, most of the accompanying project hasn't been built yet, and SoFi is surrounded by graded dirt awaiting the construction of office buildings, a shopping centre , a hotel, extensive landscaping and other projects.
Construction began on the stadium in late 2016, and it kept moving during the early months of the pandemic to be ready for August. SoFi still has that new-stadium smell on the broad concourses and in the upper suites, where the interior work was finished recently.
The indoor-outdoor stadium has a translucent roof, but is open to the air on either end of the playing field and the massive seating bowl. Even though the field is sunk into the ground below the street level of Prairie Avenue just outside, the stadium still has a cavernous feel similar to the top stadiums in the NFL, including those in Atlanta and in Arlington, Texas.
“As a quarterback, you love it when it's indoors,” Goff said. “But it's the best of both. You still get that breeze a little bit from the outside. It's just great.”
NOTES: RB Darrell Henderson has a soft tissue injury, McVay said. He had no other specifics. Rookie RB Cam Akers lined up with the first-team and second-team offences . ... McVay praised All-Pro DT Aaron Donald and QB John Wolford for their play in the scrimmage. Although he has never thrown an NFL pass, Wolford is the presumptive backup to Goff after impressing the Rams' coaches last season as their third-stringer.
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Greg Beacham, The Associated Press