THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. – From players to coaching staff to broadcasters, anyone involved in Rams vs. Cowboys on Sept. 13, 2020, the first regular season game played at SoFi Stadium had an unusual experience. Fans could not attend because of the COVID-19 pandemic, which meant Los Angeles hosted Dallas in an empty stadium.
A year later, the Rams are set to welcome fans inside their new home for a regular season game for the first time.
"Can't wait," veteran NFL play-by-play voice Al Michaels, who will call the game for NBC alongside analyst Cris Collinsworth and sideline reporter Michele Tafoya, said on a conference call last week. "That stadium is fantastic. We were in there last year, the first game ever played in there, and it was eerie and it was kind of sad in a way because as you know, that stadium is very different. It's incredible. Obviously they [spent] a ton of money, no stone unturned. (Rams Owner/Chairman) Stan Kroenke did a tremendous job visualizing what took place."
Rams players and coaches got a taste of fans being back this summer when they held an open minicamp practice in June, hosted 10 open training camp practices in Irvine in late July and early August, and later through hosting two of the team's three preseason games at home.
The first preseason game against the Chargers on Aug. 14, it was announced 68,791 tickets had been distributed for that matchup. A week later against the Raiders, 68,834.
"It's gonna be incredible. It's gonna be incredible," Rams wide receiver Cooper Kupp said after Thursday's practice. "I mean, even just in the preseason, just the atmosphere that fans brought, being able to be a part of that. Shooting real bullets now, it's gonna be pretty unreal."
Besides experiencing the double-sided Infinity Screen presented by Samsung, there's added excitement with the highly-anticipated debut of Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford, and the defensive lineman Aaron Donald and cornerback Jalen Ramsey-led Rams' defense looking to repeat as the league's best under new defensive coordinator Raheem Morris.
"To see it packed out means a lot, and just to know that the fans of L.A. are going to get a chance to be in there and really make a difference and help us win games, being a huge asset on defense and helping make other teams offenses have to go all signals and no real verbal communication means a lot," Rams punter Johnny Hekker said on Sept. 2. "So there's going to be a big advantage to us having fans in that stadium this year."
Rams defensive lineman Aaron Donald likewise is expecting them to bring the noise.
"I hope it's going to be real loud in there," Donald said after Thursday's practice. "So, I'm excited about that."
Rams head coach Sean McVay was already looking forward to the opener season-opener after the crowd on hand for their first preseason game.
"It was outstanding, really," McVay said on Aug. 14. "You just realized how much the fans create that energy, that atmosphere that makes this game so special. And being here last year in the absence of fans, you really appreciate it even that much more. It gives you that perspective. It was really exciting tonight. Looking forward to seeing another good atmosphere next week against Las Vegas. And then I can't lie but you're getting really excited about what September 12 is going to look like."