Last Updated on February 18, 2022 by BVN
Leland Stein |
As game day approached, I was mindful about the smothering traffic in my former home city.
I made sure to try and get to the futuristic, newly anointed $5.5 billion SoFi Stadium four hours early. So, I jumped on the 11:00AM Super Bowl LVI media bus taking journalists to Inglewood. The bus took little more than an hour to traverse only 15 miles.
As the bus pulled closer to the stadium compound area, I started feeling some-kinda-way.
Maybe because the last time the Super Bowl was played in the Los Angeles area (Pasadena Rose Bowl actually) in 1993, that just so happened to be my very first Super Bowl covered as a journalist. Thirty years later, and 29 Super Bowl games later, it’s beyond any of my original dreams.
Walking what seemed close to a mile to get into the stadium, I could not help but reflect and wonder where did all the time go as I headed to the media center?
The fan friendly, interactive NFL Experience, hosted at the LA Convention Center, is where fans and family come during Super Bowl week. While there I talked to many Cincinnati Bengals’ fans, and they indeed were also reflecting on their own 33-year journey endured to get back to the “Big Game.” The last time the Bengals were in the National Football League championship game was Super Bowl XXIII in 1989, where they lost to the San Francisco 49er’s.
“It’s been a long journey for our team and city to get back to the Super Bowl,” exclaimed Cincinnati head coach Zac Taylor. “Sure, it’s tough to fight and get this far and not finish it off. Really proud of the way our team played. They gave us tremendous effort and put us in a position to win. We just needed one more stop, one more score there at the end.”
Los Angeles Rams
The Los Angeles Rams were also looking for their first Super Bowl win while being in LA. The previous Rams’ title, a 23-16 victory against the Tennessee Titans at Super Bowl XXXIV in 2000, happened when the team was the St Louis Rams. The win marked the second championship for the franchise and first since returning to LA six years ago.
“It’s amazing,” said Rams owner Stan Kroenke, the man who moved the team back from St. Louis in 2016, while holding the Lombardi trophy. “I’m just really proud of this group. Sean (McVay) and Les (Snead), Kevin (Demoff) and all the guys.
“And what about these players, Matthew (Stafford), Andrew (Whitworth), Von (Miller), they’re unbelievable and they just hung in there. It was a tough game. I’m just so proud of them for executing like they did there at the end. As far as building this stadium, I think it turned out alright.”
Kroenke thinks the stadium he built turned out alright? I see why some call him “Silent Stan,” he presents himself as self-effacing.
Well, SoFi Stadium, besides hosting Los Angeles’ first Super Bowl in 30 years, will also host World Cup matches in 2026 and the Summer Olympic Games opening ceremony in 2028, along with other major concerts and events in the coming years.
During Super Bowl Week the NFL and California mandated that those visiting the stadium be required to present their vaccine status or a negative test for COVID-19 and, masks supposedly were required.
Despite the minor restrictions, and the seemingly never-ending shadow of the pandemic, the show went on.
At our media designated hotel (the Westin Bonaventure) one’s vaccination card had to be presented to check into your room, eat in any restaurant or bar in the building, attend press conferences, or sit in the press area. Masks were required to go into the media center, too.
As for the champion Rams, they got hot at the right time closing out the regular season on a 5-2 run to secure first place in the NFC West and finished with a 12-5 overall mark. The Bengals (10-7) surprised most NFL watchers, overcoming the AFC’s best to get to the title game.
Both teams had a lot of motivation to perform at their collective best, and each team did just that on the field of battle, displaying grit, determination and purpose.
The Rams and Bengals gave the enthusiastic 70,048 at the SoFi Stadium and millions of fans around the world a gripping, NFL season concluding contest that for the second consecutive year saw a home team hoist the Vince Lombardi Trophy–Tampa Bay won the Super Bowl at Raymond James Stadium in 2021.
It took a precise 79-yard drive capped by Super Bowl MVP, Cooper Kupp’s 1-yard touchdown reception from Stafford with 1:25 remaining for the 23-20 victory over Cincinnati to give Los Angeles their first NFL title since the 1999 season — and their first representing Los Angeles since 1951.
“It feels great,” said a jubilant Stafford. “Just so happy to be able to celebrate this with such great teammates and my family, people who mean the most to me, and it’s a special feeling.”
“That last drive was a special drive, [it’s] one I’ll never forget. [There were] so many great plays by so many great players. Just so happy to get it done. I’m speechless.”
Remembering Your Purpose
Rams head coach Sean McVay, at 36 became the youngest Super Bowl-winning head coach: “I think the biggest thing that I’ve realized about this group is that you’re reminded of your real purpose. There’s a difference between passion and purpose. The purpose is when you’re doing it because you want to see the other people that you love and care so much about succeed more than yourself.
“Everybody’s got some innately selfish things, but I am so proud to be associated with this group. Whether it’s Aaron Donald, Whitworth, Stafford, Eric Weddle, Miller, Odell (Beckham), or Robert Woods, I love this group so much. To be able to do it in the house that Mr. Kroenke built, it’s really special. I love this group and I’m so proud to be associated with them.”
Record breaking receiver, Kupp, and Stafford led the offensive burst that scored the game winning the touchdown. However, the Ram’s defense made the biggest plays when required to nip the Bengals comeback attempt.
Donald Makes Key Defensive Play
Aaron Donald, a three-time Defensive Player of the Year, then went out and confirmed – again – why some regard him as the baddest man in football, regardless of position.
With 43 seconds to play and the Bengals driving for a possible overtime-forcing field goal, he ended the threat by bursting past blockers on fourth-and-1 from the Rams’ 49-yard line and grabbing and spinning quarterback Joe Burrow before Burrow could set his feet, causing the ball to flutter harmlessly to the turf and ensure a 23-20 Rams victory.
At money time in the fourth quarter, LA’s relentless pass rush led by Donald and Miller with two sacks apiece, sacked Burrow a Super Bowl record-tying seven times, shutting down the Cincinnati offense.
As the clock ran out Donald, then held up both hands and pointed to his ring finger.
“This organization drafted me eight years ago,” Donald recalled. “To start in St. Louis and have our struggles and then come to L.A. and be able to build something special, bringing in Coach McVay and others. To finally get the opportunity to feel this, be living in it right now, this time, this moment – it’s hard to put it in words right now.”
I have covered a multiple of Super Bowls, but this one was special for so many reasons. Being back in my second home (LA), seeing old friends and fellowshipping was all that I needed.
Leland Stein can be reached at email@example.com or Twitter @LelandSteinIII