Plaschke: Los Angeles, you’ve got another champion . . . thanks to Stafford, Kupp

Detroit News
Bill Plaschke |  Los Angeles Times

Amid the blaring of blue and gold horns, on a super-sized Sunday fit for an ascension, the Los Angeles sports heavens just got a little more crowded.

Make room for the Rams.

Move over Lakers, back up Dodgers, everybody clear space for the oldest of friends, the newest of heroes, the prodigal sons turned Super Bowl champions.

Six years after returning to Los Angeles with helmet in hand, the Rams raised those helmets to the sky Sunday with a 23-20 victory over Cincinnati Bengals in Super Bowl LVI at Sofi Stadium.

They won it after blowing an early 10-point lead and stumbling into a 10-point deficit. They won by coming back in the fourth quarter on a 79-yard, game-winning touchdown drive featuring the two stars who have carried them all season – quarterback Matthew Stafford and receiver Cooper Kupp.

The winning blow, after the desperate Bengals were assessed two penalties for holding Kupp, came on a one-yard toss from Stafford to Kupp with 1:25 remaining.

The Rams’ defense then held the Bengals in the final minute to win it when mighty Aaron Donald threw Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow to the ground with 39 seconds remaining in a game-ending sack.

Boom. Done. Won. The exhausted Rams stalked triumphantly off their sidelines as the air filled with confetti and strains of, “I Love L.A.”

They won it not only with the final comeback, but with two other comebacks. They won despite a missed face-mask call that led to the Bengals’ go-ahead touchdown on the first play of the second half, and they won despite losing receiver Odell Beckham Jr. to a knee injury in the second quarter.

They won it with trademark resilience and toughness, just as they vowed they would win it, an overdue repayment of an ancient debt owed.

They were this city’s first NFL team in 1946. They left for St. Louis after the 1994 season. They returned in 2016 with a promise to make up for lost time and a mission to win back a city’s heart.

Promise kept. Mission complete.

All this, after a sequence of plays just after halftime that made it seemed these Rams were doomed.

On the first play of second half, with the Rams leading, 13-10, Bengals’ quarterback Joe Burrow lofted the ball down the left sideline to Tee Higgins just as Higgins pulled defender Jalen Ramsey’s face mask and twisted him toward the ground. Ramsey fell and Higgins caught the pass on the 36-yard line, then carried it in untouched for a 75-yard touchdown pass that eventually gave the Bengals a 17-13 lead.

Face-mask grab

No, the face-mask grab was not penalized and, no, the play was not reviewable for instant replay.

On the first play of the Rams’ ensuing drive, a Stafford pass bounced off the hands of Ben Skowronek and into the hands of Chidobe Awuzie for Stafford’s second interception. Moments later, that led to a 38-yard field goal to give the Bengals a 20-13 lead.

When they finally found their footing, the Rams didn’t get mad, they got even, roaring back not only with a potent offense, but a defense that eventually stopped Burrow, who was compromised with a fourth-quarter knee injury.

In winning their first Super Bowl championship and second NFL title during their 54 years of inhabiting Los Angeles, the Rams also secured their spot among the local sports landscape’s elite.

In a city of champions, they needed a title to be considered legitimate citizens. Today, they belong.

In a city where the sports fans demand excellence for their dollars, they needed a title to attract a larger share of the attention. Today, everybody is watching.

It is the first Los Angeles championship in the four major sports since both the Lakers and Dodgers won titles in the fall of 2020. And, like the Lakers and Dodgers, the Rams spared no expense in making that it happen.

Kroenke committment

When they returned here after an absence of more than two decades, owner Stan Kroenke committed everything to a ring.

He spent $5 billion to construct the palace that is SoFi Stadium with the hopes that his team would one day win a championship there. He then dispatched team president Kevin Demoff and general manager Les Snead to leave no expensive stone unturned in realizing those hopes.

They had the foresight to hire the McVay when he was the youngest coach in NFL history – he was 30 then, he’s 36 now – and then in recent years surrounded him with the game’s best talent.

They made Aaron Donald the league’s highest paid defensive player at the time. They traded for the game’s best cornerback in Jalen Ramsey. Then last spring they really got serious when they traded for quarterback Matthew Stafford. Since then, they have also traded for Super Bowl 50 MVP linebacker hero Von Miller and signed receiver Odell Beckham Jr.

After coming close with a Super Bowl loss three years ago, they finally peaked at the right time this year, riding playoff wins against the Arizona Cardinals, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and San Francisco 49ers into Sunday’s Super Bowl finale.

Which they finished with a flourish, in the style of all serious Los Angeles champions, winning as they expected to win, dominating as they promised to dominate.

The heavens no longer have to wait. Make room for the Rams.

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