My good buddy David is a wonderful man for many reasons. One of them is his incredible generosity. Over the years, he’s treated me to many a sporting event, from UCLA Football and Basketball games, to Clippers, Dodgers, and Rams tickets. If I had the rest of my life, I could never fully repay my wonderful friend’s generosity. I tell you this because this month, Dave struck again. This time, he hit pay dirt with a winning silent auction bid for VIP passes to the L.A. Rams Training Camp!
David gave me and some other friends us a month’s or so notice, so I was in anticipation for weeks leading up to our adventure a couple weeks ago (Sunday, August 12). What would we do there? Would we get to meet anybody? Where is this camp?! (on the UC Irvine Campus) What should I wear? – wait, I know what you’re thinking – “what should you WEAR?” I mean it in terms of Rams gear – should I wear a Rams cap AND my Rams T-shirt? Or just the T-Shirt? I ended up going with just the cap. I digress. The point is, the anticipation of this field trip produced almost child-like enthusiasm in me. Case in point – about 10 days prior to the event, Dave sent us an email checking in, letting us know that he bought each of us a silver-ink Sharpie for autographs to stand out. I hadn’t even thought about autographs! But why not – I have a nice protective case that currently hosts a soccer ball signed by a team that no longer even exists. So why not purchase a football for some players to autograph and place it in the case? Fifteen bucks and a trip to Big 5 later, I’m all set for autograph time.
Sunday arrives. I wake to enjoy the morning with my wife, a little breakfast and some Arsenal v. Manchester City “original football” action on the “Telly.” (See what I did there – English Premier League and all?) But all I can really think about is Rams camp! Dave’s friend Rob (who I did not know) lives nearby, and he came by my place for the 2-in-1 pick-up at 11:30. David, Rob, and I were joined by another friend I see all too infrequently, Stuart, and we were off!
The VIP tent experience was slated to kick off at 3:30PM, so the early pick up was designed to enjoy a nice lunch beforehand. Traffic and distance down to the Newport Beach Area for lunch allowed for some good guy time and your classic PG/PG-13 level banter among men of a certain age. It was interesting getting to know Rob a bit through his vast knowledge of film market research, which came up when we discussed the difference in movie theater attendance between those of us with children (Dave, Stuart) and those of us without (me, Rob). Of course, focus grouping movies was Rob’s job, so he practically lived in theaters. I’m afraid I can’t let you in on the discussion of snoring and sleep apnea.
We land in Newport Beach to discover people really like to eat in restaurants with views of the water. After a futile attempt at one restaurant, we settle for a ½ hour wait at “Sol,” a south of the border delight. It was fantastic. Great energy, place was full of beautiful Orange County people and great young families. And me and the boys even enjoyed a nice debate about plastic straws.
On to Rams Camp! We can see a steady stream of fans also arriving on the UCI campus, most adorning some sort of Rams cap, jersey, or t-shirt. On our third attempt at the right parking garage – there was a specific one for VIPs like us – we park and follow the crowd. We’re directed to a hosted tent complete with bar and plenty of finger food like chicken tenders and various deserts. Other families are there, including several school parents David knows who also bid on packs of VIP Tent tickets. It’s a good crowd, and the kids are all well behaved, even amusing as they continued to call out their favorite players, hoping to tempt them off the nearby practice field and over to the tent. No players are buying it. Autograph time has to wait for practice to end.
For about two hours, we enjoy watching several squads run through drills and scrimmage. We chat about the Rams and other interests. Each practice drill is timed for 10-15 minutes on a nearby jumbo clock/scoreboard, and a buzzer goes off letting players and coaches know it’s time for the next drill. The squads move about in a disciplined and deliberate fashion. The highlight of the afternoon was Stuart spotting a gentleman he knows and calling him over to the tent. The man, who Stuart addresses as “Kevin,” clearly works for the Rams and carries some significant position. After a few moments I am made aware that Kevin is in fact Kevin Demoff, the Rams COO & Executive Vice President of Football Operations!! He was generous with his time, seeming in no particular hurry to wherever he was going. We ask him a few questions, one being about how the Rams will build a foothold of fans in Southern California. And his answer really impressed me. Paraphrasing, he essentially said the Rams franchise is fully aware that people in Los Angeles are from all over the country and are pre-ordained toward various hometown teams. Their goal is twofold: 1) Among molded-mind adults, make the Rams our “#2 team” to root for, and 2) Mold the minds of today’s children and teens to make the Rams their #1 team, so that the next generation and their progeny are solidly in the Rams camp. A patient, sensible strategy.
Practice wraps and it’s autograph time. As me and the guys, and all the families from our VIP tent are escorted to a little corner of the field, I begin to feel self-conscious. That child-like enthusiasm I talked about now had me feeling like a child. I was about to share a corner of the field with a bunch of 10-12 year-old kids, their NON-autograph seeking parents, and begin seeking autographs from men half my age. … I settle by telling myself adults make up plenty of autograph seekers and sports memorabilia collectors, and they do this all the time. And I’m not even planning on selling what they sign. So, Ok. I should feel find doing this.
We wait for a good :15 minutes, surrounded by Rams staff members that clearly don’t want us advancing any further onto the field toward the players. They begin to entertain the kids with rounds of catch, and I begin wondering if these guys are going to show up. In the end, only 3 players came our way, but they were a solid 3 – star running back Todd Gurley, recently acquired star receiver Brandin Cooks, and Defensive Lineman Michael Brockers, with whom I never wish to get in a disagreement. I keep it classy and let all the kids go first. I get Cooks to sign my football, telling him we’re really lucky to have him joining the team. He responds with humble appreciation for that and seems semi-impressed that I know who he (his number did change from his traditional #10 [Saints, Patriots]) to #12). Todd Gurley stood about three feet behind him and to the left, shyly signing autographs (he’s a lefty, by the way) with his helmet on and sunshade drawn. His line is longest, so I approach the oncoming Michael Brockers, who comes off as a gentle giant despite what I’ve seen him do to guys on the field. I get his signature and say to him something about how I know they have a late bye week and to hang in there (I’m such an idiot). But again, he seemed impressed I knew that much about their schedule and thanked me. As we’re chatting, Todd Gurley walks away. I’ve missed my chance with the team’s best-known player. But you know what? I was just lucky to be there. With that, the big autograph build-up was complete. I’ve got my modest two autographs… at least until my next opportunity at Ram’s camp!
Satisfied and a little sundried, David drives us all home. It was a great experience, and time with my friends and newfound buddy Rob that I’ll not soon forget. The Rams season begins as the first Monday night football game of the year, September 10 against the hated Raiders…. I’ll be watching.