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On a beautiful southern California afternoon, Rams quarterbacks Jared Goff and Case Keenum practice while coach Jeff Fisher watches. Also watching, around 1,000 fans who've made the trip to the team's temporary training facility at the University of California, Irvine. "We've never seen fans in camps like this before," said wide receiver Kenny Britt. "I'm excited."
The fans waiting for autographs called out to players by their numbers, not their names — except for Todd Gurley — as Angelenos and the players began to get to know each other. Those going to the merchandise trailer hoping to buy throwback jerseys for legendary players like Roman Gabriel and Rosey Grier were out of luck.
Rams owner Stan Kroenke convinced the league's other owners to let him bring the Rams back to Los Angeles for two reasons: The fan base was strong enough in the nation's second-largest market to raise the fortunes of all of them, and he would privately finance a $2.6 billion state-of-the-art stadium that could host future Super Bowls. The Rams left L.A. for St. Louis in 1994, the last year for the NFL in Los Angeles because the Raiders decamped the same year for Oakland.
Season tickets quickly sold out, as did Saturday's preseason home opener at the Coliseum against the Cowboys. The Rams will have to play in their old stadium for at least three years, a massive bowl holding more than 93,000 seats.
Tickets for the resale market are also doing well, already markedly higher than what they were a year ago in St. Louis, according to Vivid Seats. On average, regular season tickets are going for $235, compared with $125 in 2015, launching the Rams from 23rd place to 7th. Seattle remains far out in front, with average Seahawks tickets on Vivid going for almost $400.
Coach Jeff Fisher has yet to have a winning season with the Rams, and he said on the first episode of this season's "Hard Knocks" on HBO that a 7-9 record would be "bulls**t."
He softened his tone a bit at practice this week. "I never make predictions," he said. "That was edited."
Los Angeles is famously fickle when it comes to teams. Losing is not tolerated, and Fisher knows this, having played college football for USC and as a defensive coordinator for the Rams in 1991. "There's pressure on me every single day, but I never in my career looked over my shoulder," he said.
He has his hands full. Fisher has to decide who his starting quarterback will be this season. He's already cut a player who broke the rules by bringing a woman to his room during training. "We've been building this team for a number of years now, and we've been competitive, we have to get over the hump and take advantage over the next couple of years of the great fan base," Fisher said. "Once we move into the new stadium, I tell you, it's going to be one of, if not the most, impressive sports complexes in the world."
Fisher would not comment if he's in talks to extend his contract, which ends next year. But he knows what his boss's expectations are. "Winning games sells tickets," he said.
That effort starts Saturday to some extent, even though preseason play is often more about practice and experimenting. Still, returning to the Coliseum where he played in college is special. "Every time you come down that tunnel, it's cool," Fisher said.
As for the players, Britt is enjoying the moment. Is he nervous about Saturday? "Never," he laughed. Now the first Monday night game pitting the Rams against the 49ers on the road ... that may be a different story.