AT HOME IN LA?

Rams hope Dal­las’ fans won’t over­take sta­dium

USA TODAY US Edition - - SPORTS - Joe Cur­ley

Sean McVay has a fa­vor to ask the Rams’ sea­son tick­ethold­ers this week: Re­sist cash­ing in on the team’s suc­cess this sea­son by sell­ing tick­ets to Saturday night’s divisional play­off game to Cow­boys’ fans.

“Don’t do that,” McVay flatly said on Tuesday.

The Rams’ re­turn to Los An­ge­les three years ago was cer­tainly cel­e­brated by the long-suffering fan base they aban­doned in 1994.

But South­ern Cal­i­for­nia-based fans of the league’s other 31 teams have also en­joyed the NFL’s re­turn to the re­gion. Vis­its by Philadel­phia and Green Bay over the past two sea­sons drew droves

of green-clad vis­i­tors to the Coli­seum, mem­o­rably pro­duc­ing a col­lege-like at­mos­phere at USC’s foot­ball cathe­dral.

The Cow­boys, how­ever, could rep­re­sent an even stiffer test to the Rams’ home-field ad­van­tage.

“We’ve had great turnouts at home this year,” McVay said. “It’s been great at­mos­pheres and en­vi­ron­ments, but Dal­las is one of those fran­chises that trav­els re­ally well.”

More im­por­tant, “Amer­ica’s Team” has its own his­tory in the greater Los An­ge­les re­gion.

De­spite be­ing lo­cated more than 1,200 miles east, Dal­las has pitched its train­ing camp in Ventura County, north of Los An­ge­les, for 39 of the past 55 sum­mers.

“We’ve got thou­sands of fans that are gen­er­a­tional in Los An­ge­les,” Cow­boys owner Jerry Jones said on Dal­las’ 105.3 FM The Fan. “We do feel very com­fort­able go­ing to Los An­ge­les play­ing. That’s not to say the Rams are go­ing to make it com­fort­able for us.”

The Cow­boys trained on the cam­pus of Cal­i­for­nia Lutheran Univer­sity in Thou­sand Oaks, nearby where the Rams built their cur­rent foot­ball head­quar­ters, for nearly the en­tirety of Tom Landry’s ten­ure as head coach.

“I used to carry (for­mer Cow­boys tight end) Billy Joe DuPree’s helmet from the dorm to the prac­tice field,” said Bob Froio, a Cow­boys’ fan from nearby Simi Val­ley.

With Jones as owner, the Cow­boys have set up camp in nearby Ox­nard 13 times since 2001.

Jose Espinoza, a Cow­boys’ fan from Ox­nard, says the team’s con­nec­tion with the city is unique.

“For us to have a pro­fes­sional team prac­tic­ing in our back­yard, it’s an amaz­ing feel­ing,” Espinoza said. “It gives us some­thing to look for­ward to ev­ery sum­mer, and we want to sup­port them.”

Five years ago, Espinoza had a giant Cow­boys’ logo, fea­tur­ing Landry, Em­mitt Smith, Michael Irvin, Troy Aik­man and a cheer­leader, tat­tooed across his back in a show of sup­port.

The im­pact Cow­boys’ fans could make on Saturday was felt in the hours af­ter Bears kicker Cody Parkey had a po­ten­tially game-winning field goal against Philadel­phia on Sun­day blocked, set­ting Dal­las up with the matchup in Los An­ge­les.

Froio was watch­ing the game at home with his brother-in-law, a fel­low Cow­boys’ fan.

“We looked at each other and said, ‘Hey, we should grab tick­ets,’ ” Froio said.

Within mo­ments, Froio, who at­tended the Rams’ first reg­u­lar-sea­son home game against Seat­tle in 2016, re­ceived an email from the Rams’ ticket ser­vices.

Other An­ge­lenos had the same idea. Within hours of Parkey’s miss, tick­ets on the sec­ondary mar­ket nearly dou­bled in value.

By Thursday, the av­er­age price of a ticket for the game was $708, mak­ing it the most ex­pen­sive divisional-round buy of this decade, ac­cord­ing to Ticket IQ.com.

“We know the Rams are build­ing a fol­low­ing out there quickly,” Cow­boys ex­ec­u­tive vice pres­i­dent Stephen Jones said. “But they’re just get­ting go­ing out there again, and hope­fully that will pay off for us.

“We’ve been go­ing out just north of L.A. for quite some time out in Ox­nard. Hope­fully some of those tick­ets will be float­ing around and end up in the hands of Cow­boys’ fans.”

Rams sea­son tick­etholder Joey Velasco, who is also from Ox­nard, has seen the im­pact op­pos­ing fans have had on the at­mos­phere at the Coli­seum over the past three sea­sons.

He was proud of Rams’ fans’ turnout for the Mon­day night win over Kansas City but isn’t con­cerned about a po­ten­tial in­va­sion from Cow­boys’ fans on Saturday.

“I’m just glad they’re back in L.A. and it’s im­por­tant to South­ern Cal­i­for­nia,” Velasco said of the Rams. “It’s a play­off game. The way I feel, they’ve got to get over that hump of winning their first play­off game. Once they get that thresh­old and beat the Cow­boys, I think we’ll go to the Su­per Bowl.”

Cow­boys’ fans are ex­pected to fill 31 per­cent of the Coli­seum’s ca­pac­ity, ac­cord­ing to Vivid Seats.

Ticket bro­kers have picked up on the sto­ry­line to move sup­ply. On Thursday, Stub­Hub sent out a “RAMS ALERT!” mo­bile push, telling po­ten­tial Rams’ fans that the team needs “ev­ery fan there on Saturday.”

It’s safe to as­sume that McVay would ap­prove of that mes­sage.

“We’ve been so ap­pre­cia­tive of the sup­port that they’ve shown us through­out this year, and it means a lot,” McVay said. “Be­ing able to have that home-field ad­van­tage is some­thing that we truly cher­ish. Hope­fully they’ll make us feel that way on Saturday night and we’ll give them a prod­uct they de­serve.”

Ezekiel El­liott signs au­to­graphs dur­ing the Cow­boys’ train­ing camp at River Ridge Fields in Ox­nard, Cal­i­for­nia.

PHO­TOS BY KIRBY LEE/USA TO­DAY SPORTS

An “Ox­nard Wel­comes Dal­las Cow­boys” ban­ner flew over West Vine­yard Av­enue while they held camp.

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