IRVINE, Calif. (AP) — On the night before the Los Angeles Rams’ first public practice of training camp, coach Jeff Fisher warned his players to be prepared for a crazy welcome.
The Rams still were impressed Saturday when thousands of screaming, chanting fans showed up to herald the start of a new era.
“I didn’t know it was going to be like that,” running back Todd Gurley said. “It was pretty cool to have everybody come out.”
The Rams went through a long workout in front of fans who gathered hours early at UC Irvine and hung out until the late afternoon in the breezy Orange County heat.
The school and the Rams counted 10,112 fans in attendance. They filled three large bleachers and a stretch of upscale tents surrounding the team’s two practice fields, and others walked through a small fair behind the stands featuring food, games and merchandise in both the Rams’ current colors and the traditional LA blue and yellow-gold.
Southern California has regained its appetite for the NFL after a 21-year absence, and the Rams’ fans showed up in force for the latest in a series of welcome-home moments culminating in the home opener at the Coliseum on Sept. 18.
“It was great,” Fisher said. “We gathered (the players) up right before we got started, just to calm them down. When the atmosphere is the way it was, and the environment and the fans and the support, there’s a tendency to go a little bit quicker earlier than you should in practice. We wanted to make sure they got warmed up.”
While fans came from all over the Southland for the first of many open practices, Orange County has particularly deep ties to the Rams. The team moved from the Coliseum in 1980 to play its final 15 seasons at Angel Stadium in Anaheim, with Eric Dickerson setting the NFL’s single-season rushing record there on Dec. 9, 1984.
The Rams trained at UC Irvine for three of their final four seasons in Anaheim, including their final camp in 1994 before the move to St. Louis. They used the same fields and the same locker room as the current Rams, who will be on campus for five weeks while their permanent in-season training complex is completed in Thousand Oaks.
Fisher was the Rams’ defensive coordinator in 1991 when they held camp in Irvine.
“Personally, I’m excited to be back,” Fisher said. “It’s 1991 since I was on this campus. Trees are much taller. Things look different, but it’s certainly great to be back.”
While they have thousands of fans who never left them, the Rams also have a novelty factor that has long since evaporated in St. Louis.
Los Angeles fans haven’t been worn down by the Rams’ 11-year playoff drought and 12 consecutive non-winning seasons. They didn’t see Marc Bulger, Sam Bradford, Nick Foles and all of the other quarterbacks who tried and failed to coax consistent success out of the club.
But with No. 1 draft pick Jared Goff taking snaps under the California sun, the Rams looked and felt renewed.
“There were a lot of people out there,” Goff said. “The music was bumping, and people were excited. We’re starting the real season now, so you’ve got to get the jitters out and get comfortable.”
NOTES: Tre Mason was placed on the Did Not Report list, and Fisher revealed that the backup running back has refused to speak with him or the Rams during an offseason of legal troubles. Mason, who rushed for 207 yards last season, was arrested in Florida in March on suspicion of reckless driving, marijuana possession and other charges. “I haven’t personally spoken with Tre since the season ended,” Fisher said. “I tried numerous times to reach him. Tre has made a decision not to communicate with us, not to talk. Not talking to his teammates. Right now we’re more concerned about Tre Mason’s well-being than we are his football career.” … S T.J. McDonald rejoined the Rams after missing much of their offseason workouts. The USC product was arrested in May in Woodland Hills on suspicion of driving under the influence of a substance other than alcohol. He didn’t provide an update on his legal status, calling his incident “an accident. … It’s something that I’ve put behind me. I’m definitely in a good place right now.” … Promising RT Rob Havenstein is on the physically unable to perform list with a foot injury. Fisher said he’ll need “maybe a few weeks” before returning.
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