Hernández: Don't blame Rams for sorry spectacle of 49ers fans flooding SoFi Stadium

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INGLEWOOD, CA - JANUARY 9, 2022: San Francisco 49ers fans cheer after the 49ers tied the game against the Rams in the second half on January 9, 2022 at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, California.(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)
San Francisco fans celebrate during the 49ers' upset victory over the Rams in the regular-season finale. Will a sea of red infiltrate SoFi Stadium again for the NFC championship game? (Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

Matthew Stafford wasn’t voicing a wish as much as he was making a desperate plea to his team’s fans.

“Hopefully,” the Rams quarterback said, “it’s one of those games where we come out and it’s heavy blue and yellow and we have a nice, live, loud crowd that makes it tough on them.”

In other words: Please.

Please don’t let SoFi Stadium be turned into Candlestick South on Sunday.

Please don’t give the San Francisco 49ers home-field advantage in the NFC championship game.

Please don’t make the Rams relive their regular-season finale when their stadium was overtaken by 49ers fans who made them feel as if they were the Chargers in their old 30,000-seat home in Carson.

“Don’t sell your tickets!” coach Sean McVay playfully said Monday.

At least one prominent secondary ticket marketplace is predicting a change in the audience composition.

The problem for the Rams is that Vivid Seats estimates there will be more 49ers fans than there were in Week 18, not fewer.

Vivid Seats projects 65% of fans at SoFi Stadium on Sunday to be cheering for the 49ers, up from the 60% the company estimated for the game earlier this month.

The Rams tried to remedy the problem by making NFC championship tickets available for purchase only by credit cards with billing addresses in the greater Los Angeles area.

Brett Goldberg, co-founder and co-chief executive of another secondary ticket marketplace, TickPick, said indications are that such restrictions are ineffective, especially since a team can’t control to whom tickets are resold.

“What we’ve been talking about internally is whether it actually adds fuel to the fire and motivates the opposing team and fan base to come,” Goldberg said.

Goldberg said the Tennessee Titans implemented similar measures but failed to keep out a sizable contingent of Cincinnati Bengals fans for their divisional-round game. The Bengals won.

Don’t blame the Rams for this sorry spectacle.

San Francisco 49ers fans celebrate after a 27-24 overtime win over the Rams on Jan. 9 at SoFi Stadium.
San Francisco 49ers fans celebrate after a 27-24 overtime win over the Rams on Jan. 9 at SoFi Stadium. (Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

In their six years since returning from St. Louis, they have taken proactive steps to endear themselves to Los Angeles.

They traded for a No. 1 overall pick. They hired a rock star coach. They became contenders. They opened a breathtaking stadium. Presented with an opportunity to play a Super Bowl in this new stadium, they went all-in by stockpiling superstars.

What the Rams are dealing with now are the remnants of the NFL’s decision to desert this market for more than two decades.

Get used to this. Children who were born when Los Angeles didn’t have a football team became of legal drinking age and the city still didn’t have a football team.

That’s not damage that can be repaired in six years.

Something like this is bound to unfold every now and then until there’s a generation of Angelenos that views the Rams as Los Angeles’ team and Los Angeles’ team only, rather than a refugee from a dump of a city in the Midwest.

McVay said of the 49ers: “They do a great job traveling, they got a really loyal fan base, they’ve got great tradition and history, and it’s a short trip.”

Like from down the street. The enemy doesn’t have to travel when the enemy is already here.

There is no football equivalent of the Dodgers-Giants parallel, the imaginary line in Central California that divides the state by baseball allegiance.

The departure of the Raiders and Rams after the 1994 season created a vacancy in Los Angeles. Some Angelenos adopted the 49ers as their team, others the Dallas Cowboys or Green Bay Packers.

The 49ers remain one of the most popular teams in the area. So, while the Giants are subjected to intense boos at Dodger Stadium, the 49ers are welcomed as heroes at SoFi Stadium.

Of the 49ers’ two “homes,” SoFi Stadium is by far their more luxurious one.

Levi’s Stadium is located in the San Jose suburb of Santa Clara, the 49ers moving 40 miles south of San Francisco after they failed to find a permanent home in the city whose name they bear. Their new stadium is adjacent to a second-rate amusement park and their search for expanded game-day parking has resulted in an unsightly decade-long effort to remove a local youth soccer league from its fields. Compared to the York family that owns the 49ers, Walmart-heiress-marrying, Arsenal-destroying Stan Kroenke seems like a peach.

The number of 49ers fans expected to invade the team’s “second home” in Inglewood might be a source of embarrassment for the Rams, but the primary concerns of Stafford and McVay are more practical.

In their 27-24 come-from-ahead loss to the 49ers on Jan. 9, crowd noise forced the Rams to use a silent count. Stafford often was unable to change plays at the line of scrimmage.

“Certain parts of the field, it was really noisy,” McVay said. “It was really difficult to operate. You almost have to handle that situation like you would an away game.”

McVay chose to be optimistic about what the upcoming game could be like, mentioning “unique circumstances” that could have shaped the crowd in Week 18. The Rams were qualified for the playoffs the week before, leading the team to wonder how many of their season-ticket holders might have sold their tickets for the final game.

McVay said he was hopeful the crowd Sunday could be similar to the one that watched them defeat the Arizona Cardinals on a Monday night in an NFC wild-card game.

“It majorly gave us an advantage and our players a big boost,” McVay said. “Looking forward to the same thing on Sunday afternoon for the NFC championship.”

McVay’s vision could become a reality at some point — an NFC championship game against the 49ers at SoFi Stadium in which the crowd is behind the Rams. But at the moment, that vision feels as if it’s years, if not decades, in the future.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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