Confetti flew. Cheers filled SoFi Stadium. And Sam Lee, a teacher from Pacoima sporting a Los Angeles Rams face mask and hat with curling horns, let the world in on a little secret.
“We finally brought it home,” the 38-year-old fan said between whoops of joy as he celebrated his team’s 23-20 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals in Super Bowl LVI. “Oh my God, this is a lifetime event. It’s right up there with my marriage.
“Don’t tell my wife.”
Lee didn’t want to leave the packed stadium Sunday night. Rams fans strutted around draped in flags bearing their winning team’s logo. They snapped selfies with the field in the background and their Rams jerseys proudly front and center. Bengals fans mourned, their heads in their hands.
Fireworks exploded in the night sky throughout Los Angeles, this city in trademark full celebration mode. Because on this night there was so much to celebrate.
Los Angeles, which is fashioning itself as an international sports destination — the Olympics are headed here in 2028, and the city’s in contention for the World Cup in 2026 — hasn’t hosted the Big Game since 1993. And the Los Angeles Rams have never won the Super Bowl; the St. Louis Rams were NFL champs in 2000.
Just before the 3:30 kickoff, a roar rippled through the crowd in the $5-billion stadium as Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson took the field. “Finally,” he yelled, “the Super Bowl has returned to Los Angeles!”
He talked about the Rams and their vaunted defense. Los Angeles fans erupted. Then he introduced the Bengals, “a team that has risen from the ashes.” The boos rang out loud and clear.
On the streets leading up to SoFi Stadium on Sunday morning, intrepid entrepreneurs held up cardboard signs hawking parking spots for $200. And $250. And $400. And, for the truly desperate, $450.
Others stood outside their homes selling tacos for $10, Fireball shots for $5, popcorn, chips, bacon-wrapped hot dogs, bottles of cold water, clear plastic tote bags, N95 masks, even phone chargers. Warned one vendor voice of doom: “Your phone’s gonna die, I promise.”
Stacie McGinty, a wise student of human nature, opened up her apartment bathroom, allowing football fans to relieve themselves there for $10 a pop. Thirty minutes before kickoff, at least 60 people had taken her up on the offer.
Sitting on her front stoop, McGinty laughed and gestured toward the well-lubricated Bengals fans who’d joined her in the February heat; Inglewood was 50 or so degrees warmer than Cincinnati.
“I’m from L.A., nowhere near Ohio,” McGinty said with a laugh. “These are my new friends. They used the bathroom and they’re chilling.”
The bathroom break cost you. Disinformation, however, was free. A woman in a T-shirt proclaiming, “Where there is risk there must be choice,” brandished a big black sign that read, “COVID-19 vaccines have no long term safety data.”
Football fans who wanted to be on the safe side, however, could get a rapid coronavirus test and a six-pack while walking to the stadium; a mobile test site was set up early in front of Forum Liquors. (Not everyone was so inclined; a small contingent of anti-vaxxers protested outside the stadium.)
Many who couldn’t afford a ticket headed to the grocery store early Sunday for some last-minute provisions. Shoppers swarmed the aisles at a Ralphs market in Manhattan Beach. Clerks frantically restocked shelves. Beer and bouquets raced out the door.
Because, as one barista at the in-store Starbucks put it, “it’s the Super Bowl and the Sunday before Valentine’s Day.”
Zamora Bros., a restaurant and carnicería in East Los Angeles, is best known for its carnitas. On a typical Sunday, cooks turn out about 800 pounds of braised meats: pork, cow tongue and guts, to name a few. But for the Super Bowl, they cooked up three times that; orders had been rolling in since late January.
Customers began to line up and cars to double park at 9 a.m. Sunday outside of the blue-and-white storefront on East Cesar Chavez Avenue, said shop manager Norma Peralta.
“We had people with Rams jerseys,” Peralta said. “And 49ers, which I didn’t understand.”
Some dreams never die.
At Tom Bergin’s, one of the oldest Irish bars in Los Angeles and a longtime Rams hangout, even Jenna Bryan’s dog Massi, a Pomeranian-dachshund-corgi mix, sported a bit of blue-and-gold bling, a heart in Rams colors between her big brown eyes.
The Fairfax Avenue bar was established in 1936, the same year as the Rams. Bryan, a 47-year-old who lives across the street, admitted she had briefly considered buying a ticket to Sunday’s game. But if she had to pay $15,000 for a seat, she figured, she’d have needed to have a “good bathroom and free drinks.”
Instead, she was content watching the game at her neighborhood haunt, she said. “I am grateful where I have all my friends here.”
Those who could shelled out big bucks for the privilege of watching Super Bowl LVI in the comfort of the flashy new arena. Sanjiv Patel, a lifelong Cincinnati resident, made the last-minute decision Thursday to take his 10-year-old son, Aarav, to the game. Patel, 49, said he snagged a pair of tickets that were just under $5,000 each.
“I wanted to take my son to something he’s going to tell his grandkids about,” Patel said after snapping a selfie with his son in front of SoFi Stadium.
They were among a strong showing of Bengals fans who made the pilgrimage to Los Angeles for what they hoped would be the first Super Bowl win in franchise history. Fate was not kind.
His team’s last Super Bowl showing, a loss to the 49ers in 1989, still stung. “It means a lot to the whole city,” Patel said, “just to get to this point.”
Nelson Quintanilla bought his Super Bowl ticket back in August. The 52-year-old Rams fan had no idea if his beloved team would be vying for the championship. But he planned to attend whether they made it or not.
That they were competing for a title made it all the sweeter, he said. And he needed a little sweetness Sunday morning.
He was out $8,500 for the ticket he bought six months ago. Compare that to the ticket his cousin bought this weekend — a just-in-time purchase of $3,500.
The drop in price, Quintanilla said, underscores the apparent indifference of many Angelenos when it comes to supporting the hometown team. But a Rams win on Sunday, he said before the game, would grow its fan base and win the allegiance of a city that values results over anything else.
Now, he’ll get a chance to test his hypothesis.
“L.A. is about winning. The Kings, the Lakers, the Clippers — they have to be on top,” he said.
Quintanilla was standing in front of the SoFi Stadium lake Sunday afternoon, surrounded by crowds of people sporting Rams blue and gold, just like him.
“It’s beautiful,” he said. “Perfect weather. Perfect people.”
Now, if you had only $875 to spend on your Super Bowl experience, you could still get your game day crowd on at nearby Hollywood Park Casino.
That’s what it cost to get into the Player’s Tailgate event, which drew a healthy contingent of Bengals fans Sunday morning, their cheers drowning out the Rams faithful during a DJ-led call-and-response. Clusters of people dotted the venue’s red carpet, and shade from the sun was hard to find.
“Hot,” said Julie Wirtz when asked about her first impression of Los Angeles.
Wirtz was on a family vacation in Florida when she made a spur-of-the-moment decision to get in on the action. She left her husband in charge of the kids — one just 1 month, the other 5 years — packed her Bengals jersey and hopped on a plane.
“I left my family on the beach in Naples, Fla., boarded a plane last night and got in at 10 p.m.,” she said. “I stay till tomorrow morning when I board the plane, hung over.”
Resplendent in a blue wig and a Rams jersey, Mary Becerra came to the game with her good friend Stuart Guidry. He’s 57, she’s 56, the same age as the Super Bowl, she noted, adding, “It’s a lucky number.” The pair from Hawthorne posed for selfies, making sure to capture the stadium with its soaring silver canopy in the background.
“We’re going to kick the Bengals in their ass,” Guidry boasted.
Becerra is a season ticket holder and has been a Rams fan since she was little.
“I traveled everywhere to watch the Rams play so as soon as they moved to L.A., I got season tickets,” she said. She got two tickets after winning the sweepstakes for ticketholders.
The two Rams fans were wearing masks to protect them from the coronavirus. Becerra said she feels safer doing it. She sees a lot of other fans who don’t.
“This is huge,” she said about the Super Bowl here. “Bringing people together, uniting people, especially through all we’ve been through the past couple of years? It’s huge.”
Times staff writers Jeong Park, Ruben Vives, Kevin Rector and Kenan Draughorne contributed to this story.