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Following the Rams through good and bad led to this moment

After many lost seasons, reflecting on Sunday’s win is even sweeter.

NFL: NFC Championship Game-Los Angeles Rams at New Orleans Saints Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

My journey to following the Rams was always a hard thing to explain to anyone that asked.

In the beginning, I was 11 years old and had been increasingly, if still vaguely, aware of the NFL and football at large. My family members were mostly college football fans and while living in Tucson, Arizona at the time — the Cardinals weren’t capturing anyone’s imagination, even just two hours south of Phoenix.

The Rams had recently just won a Super Bowl and in heartbreaking fashion to my neophyte football interest, lost another.

So, I latched on to a St. Louis team that had seemingly mastered offensive wizardry. There was no rationale I needed outside of “Kurt Warner and Marshall Faulk and Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce are fun.”

The team lighting up scoreboards in the shadow of the Gateway Arch were gatekeepers to my growing interest in the sport — even though I had never been to St. Louis.

Then, the crash came. The Super Bowl era players left. Front office politics tanked continuity and squandered potential. Draft picks went bust. Coaching regimes washed out.

I’m sure you know the story well if you’re reading this.

The program from the first Rams game I attended in November 2003 when St. Louis played at the Cardinals at Sun Devil Stadium.
Brennan Smith

But throughout, when questions of “why the Rams?” arose from friends, family and random people, I stuck with the team.

Geographical distance didn’t matter. Disappointments of lost seasons were searing in the moment, but were footnotes when training camps opened and autumn arrived.

Hope. Again.

As the Rams’ playoff run continued this season, the team’s playoff journey kept unearthing memories of those times.

One in particular stood out.

In the 2009 season when I was in high school and the Rams were spiraling to a potentially winless campaign, I went to a sports bar in Tucson and commandeered a TV in the back to watch St. Louis play the lowly Lions.

It was a basically unwatchable football game and the Rams were 0-7 at the time — well out of any playoff picture. But late in the game, Steven Jackson broke off a 25-yard run for a touchdown and the Rams won, 17-10.

I remember celebrating in the bar as if they’d just won the Super Bowl. That team finished 1-15. But that win mattered to me. That moment matters to me still.

After the Rams clinched a Super Bowl berth on Sunday, I ran around my home yelling with excitement that echoed what I felt in 2009. That context made this victory so much sweeter.

And the questions from those friends and family in the past turned into congratulations and well wishes Sunday because they’d seen me persevere through the leanest years sports fandom can drag you through.

Many seasons later, I’m a guy that was raised in Arizona, living in Utah, that’s rooting for a team in Los Angeles by way of St. Louis by way of Los Angeles the first time.

That identity isn’t hard to explain anymore with how special this team has been so far.

When the Super Bowl kicks off in Atlanta in two weeks, I’ll embrace that identity like never before.