It's Thursday, April 19.
Almost a year ago to the day, general manager Les Snead and head coach Sean McVay stood in the Rams' draft room and learned the schedule for the first year of their partnership in Los Angeles.
On this day, the setup is largely the same. There are four large televisions in the front of the room, two of which have a software program to show each game as it's revealed. The two outside screens are displaying renderings of the Los Angeles Stadium and Entertainment District's Rams playing field, complete with "WHOSE HOUSE?" in large lettering on the stadium's Oculus video board.
It's a few minutes before noon when Snead walks in the room where he's spent so much time with the rest of the personnel staff preparing for next week's NFL Draft. He says he's often thinking too much about his other job responsibilities to even worry about what the schedule will bring. And even though the club has known its 2018 opponents for months, Snead admits he sometimes forgets teams and locations.
This year, cornerback Aqib Talib and left tackle Andrew Whitworth are in the room to hear the schedule announcement, too. They're seated at tables in the front of the room — Whitworth on the left, Talib on the right in front of the phone. The plan is for Talib to answer it when it rings.
Snead has a spot at the table, too, but he doesn't really want to use it.
"I pace," he says. And he will throughout the call.
But Snead also wants to make one thing clear with the two veteran players.
"We do nickname the games," he says. "Each game has a nickname."
"I'll let you do that," Whitworth lightheartedly replies.
"No, no," Snead says, "We need some creativity in here."
The offseason program began on Monday, which means McVay has been in the classroom with players all morning. He enters the draft room at 12:06.
"Alright," he says, taking a seat in the second row of chairs between Talib and Whitworth.
"I told them, we nickname all games," Snead says.
"You nickname all games," McVay shoots back to laughter in the room.
A minute later, the phone rings. Talib asks the room, "Are we good?" The room agrees. He hits the speaker button and says, "Los Angeles Rams — Aqib Talib speaking."
There's a few seconds of silence. Mike North, the NFL's senior director of broadcasting, calls all 32 teams to inform them of their schedules. He probably hasn't had many players on the other end of the line before.
He understandably stammers a bit before introducing himself and asking Talib how he's doing.
"Pretty good, how are you doing?" Talib replies.
"Good, good. Welcome to Los Angeles," North says. "Are you going to take down the schedule and let everybody know today?"
"Yeah, I'll be doing all the secretary work today — yes sir," Talib says.
At that point, Snead seems a bit tired of the pleasantries.
"Mike — let's roll!" he says.
And then it's time.
"Week No. 1, Monday Night Football, September 10th, on the road at the Oakland Raiders," North announces.
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"Alright, man," McVay says, reacting to the news that he'll face his mentor, Jon Gruden, to open the season.
"Who's calling the game, Mike?" McVay then asks — a relevant inquiry since it clearly won't be Gruden, who's returned to the sidelines.
"That's a great question," North replies to laughter.
"We've got to do our 'Bowl' tradition," Snead says. "Is it the mentor-mentee bowl?"
Next, the room finds out the Rams will face the Cardinals for their home opener in Week 2.
"Division game early," Snead quips. No bowl this time, apparently.
Then the Chargers come up the 110 to play at the Coliseum in Week 3.
"That may be one of our four or five 'Wade Bowls,'" Snead says, referring to defensive coordinator Wade Phillips. He has coached for practically half the league in his storied career.
In Week 4, the Rams will play the Vikings at the Coliseum for Thursday Night Football — beginning the FOX package of TNF games. And it will be the second time McVay will see quarterback Kirk Cousins on an opposing sideline.
"The inaugural FOX game? Kirk Cousins?" Snead says. "Kirk comes to town. Maybe we know a little something, Sean?"
"We'll have to see what John DeFilippo's doing," McVay replies, referring to Minnesota's new offensive coordinator.
The next week brings a bit of a surprise, as Los Angeles will go to Seattle for Week 7. The Rams haven't played the Seahawks at CenturyLink field in a month not named December since 2009.
"Hey Mike, you know that's not December, right?" Rams EVP of football operations Kevin Demoff quips.
"Correct," North deadpans back.
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"I know what bowl that is," North says.
"The Aqib Talib Bowl!" Snead happily exclaims, before Talib himself declares it, "The 'Lib Bowl."
"There you go — he does make nicknames after all!" Snead replies. He clearly loves the nicknames.
It's back in the division for Week 7, as the Rams will play their third consecutive game on the road, facing the 49ers on Sunday Night Football.
"So three of our first seven are prime-time games," McVay observes.
The Rams are home against the Packers in Week 8, which McVay dubs the "Cal Quarterback Bowl" in honor of Jared Goff and Aaron Rodgers.
"That's good," Snead says.
Week 9 in New Orleans, then Week 10 against Seattle at the Coliseum, and as was announced on Wednesday night, Los Angeles will face Kansas City on Monday Night Football in Mexico City in Week 11. Then comes the bye in Week 12, which means everyone will get to truly spend time with their families for Thanksgiving.
"Dope," Talib says upon hearing that news.
Then it's the tough, road back-to-back. Week 13 at Detroit for the first 10 a.m. pacific start of the season. Followed by Week 14 at Chicago for what is likely to be a cold afternoon on the shores of Lake Michigan.
That brings the call to the fifth prime-time game of the schedule — Week 14, Sunday Night Football at home against the Eagles.
"The Al Michaels Bowl — he gets to stay home," Snead says.
The schedule finishes with the Rams visiting the Cardinals in Week 16, followed by another season-ending matchup with the 49ers at the Coliseum in Week 17.
"Obviously, subject to flexible scheduling that week — hope there are significant playoff implications for that game," North says.
That's when another fact dawns on McVay.
"So we could play six prime-time games then?" he asks. "Because we've got five already. Is six the max?"
"Six is the max," North replies.
North wishes all those in the room good luck, and then he's off the phone and on to his next call. It's 12:14 and the whole thing has taken only seven minutes.
At that point, the room begins to discuss travel plans.
"We don't leave the West Coast until we go [to New Orleans]," McVay says. "That's crazy."
The easygoing rapport between Snead and McVay is also clear as they discuss some of the prime-time games. They're nearly completing each other's thoughts.
"So really — on our road prime-time games, we're not traveling far," Snead says.
"Correct," McVay replies. "Just to Oakland and Mexico City."
"And San Fran," Snead says.
"So the two Monday night games are on the road, then the two Sunday night games — we're at San Fran, we're home against Philly, and we've got the home game against Minnesota," McVay says. "Those are the five."
"Yup," Snead says.
"Alright, good deal," McVay says, tapping the table twice with his hands before getting up to head out of the room.
The schedule remains up on the two middle screens, as coaches begin to file in to get a look at it for themselves. Two of them are defensive coordinator Wade Phillips and defensive line coach Bill Johnson. As Phillips enters the room, someone says, "Wade, don't tweet this."
"So, don't Tweet this?" Phillips, of @sonofbum Twitter fame, asks with a grin.
Johnson seems pleased with the way the schedule has shaken out. He's looking at Weeks 5 through 7, when the Rams play at Seattle, at Denver, and at San Francisco.
"This is three in a row, but we're only flying an hour or two," Johnson says.
Soon after he and Phillips depart the room, but Johnson comes back with assistant head coach/linebackers coach Joe Barry.
"We don't leave the West Coast until we visit New Orleans," Johnson tells him.
That's when Phillips returns, quipping, "Alright, it's out on Twitter," to make the whole room laugh.
There's still a few hours until the schedule will be made public. But after a few more coaches enter the room to take a photo of the 17-week slate, everyone gets back to work.
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