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I’m having trouble getting into the “Beat LA” mind-set as we begin the endless preparation for Super Bowl LIII in Atlanta, Feb. 3. Much as I’d like to go all Magic Johnson/Dancing Barry, East Coast vs. West Coast, gritty Boston vs. Showtime LA, it just isn’t working for me.
The Patriots are playing the Los Angeles Rams, but does this feel anything like Celtics-Lakers? Would the prospect of Trey Flowers sacking Jared Goff remind anyone of Kevin McHale’s clothesline takedown of Kurt Rambis?
We tried to push the Boston-LA theme when the Red Sox played the Dodgers in the World Series just three months ago, but it never really took hold. Certainly Sox fans enjoyed booing Manny Machado, but there was no deep-seated Hub hatred at the sight of Dodger blue. There was no Fenway Park vs. Dodger Stadium, no Joe Castiglione vs. Vin Scully, no Yaz vs. Sandy Koufax.
Everybody in Boston loves Dodgers manager Dave Roberts, and we never got caught up in the substance-vs.-style comparisons that marked Celtics-Lakers wars through the decades.
The Dodgers themselves resorted to basketball to boost the World Series matchup with Boston. Prior to Game 5 at Dodger Stadium, trailing the Red Sox, three games to one, the Dodgers tried to energize their own fans with a cornball canned video of Magic Johnson and Larry Bird talking about the rivalry. It didn’t work.
Now we have Boston-LA in the ultimate football game.
But is there anyone on the Rams who pushes your buttons like Kobe Bryant, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, or Jerry West?
“It does for me,’’ says Cedric Maxwell, a longtime Laker tormentor who was standing on the Boston Garden parquet floor in the spring of 1982 when Philadelphia beat the Celtics in a Game 7 and Boston fans sent the 76ers into the Finals with the generous chant of “Beat LA!”
“I was thinking about that the other day when I heard the Patriots were going to play the Los Angeles Rams,’’ says Max. “It will be ‘Beat LA’ again. You could have two guys playing marbles, and that would happen if one was from Boston and one was from LA.
“I had it happen to me once in 1985 when Dennis Johnson and I went to an R&B concert in Providence. When the lights came up after the show, people saw us and started chanting, ‘Beat LA.’ ’’
In my view, Boston’s thirst to “Beat LA” is about the Lakers and the Lakers alone. The Celtics have played the Los Angeles Lakers 11 times in the NBA Finals. Celtics-Lakers gave the world Bob Cousy dribbling out the clock to win a championship at the LA Sports Arena in his final Celtic game in 1963. It gave us player-coach Bill Russell beating the Wilt Chamberlain-Elgin Baylor-West Lakers in his final game in 1969 — bursting the balloons on the ceiling of the LA Forum. It gave us Max flashing the “choke” sign after James Worthy missed a free throw in the ’84 Finals. It gave us a 131-92 beatdown of Kobe and Phil Jackson when the Celtics won their first championship in 22 years in 2008.
Not so much.
We simply don’t think of the Rams as part of LA. Neither does Los Angeles.
The Rams first played in Los Angeles in 1946, and the Patriots played six games vs. the Los Angeles Rams between 1974-92. Few memories survive. The Patriots went 3-3 vs. those Los Angeles Rams.
The Rams were the St. Louis Rams from 1995-2015. In 2001, the St. Louis Rams were the Greatest Show on Turf. That’s the season the Patriots beat them in the Super Bowl in New Orleans.
The Rams returned to LA three years ago, but have yet to create much of an identity as an LA franchise.
“The No. 1 pro football team in our town has been the Raiders,’’ says veteran Los Angeles Times sports columnist Bill Plaschke. “This has been a growing process with the Rams, and I think they need this opponent, the Patriots, to finally feel at home here.
“The Rams are like a new neighbor. You get to know them more as time goes on. They become more LA’s team every week. But you really don’t know your neighbor until a storm hits, and a storm is coming now and a flood is on the way.
“This is a perfect opportunity for LA to finally galvanize behind the Rams. Now is the time.’’
We will plumb some juicy themes with this matchup.
We have the residue of Spygate and the urban myth that the Patriots videotaped a Rams walk-through in New Orleans 17 years ago.
At the quarterback position, we have 24-year-old Californian Goff vs. 41-year-old Californian Tom Brady.
On the sidelines, we have fuzzy-faced Rams coach Sean McVay vs. grumpy old Bill Belichick. McVay turns 33 on Thursday. Belichick is 66. It’s Doogie Howser Meets The Hoodie.
What we do not have is Mark Wahlberg vs. Sean Penn, or the Omni Parker House vs. the Hotel California. No “Good Will Hunting” vs. “Heaven Can Wait.’’
We do not have any real city/lifestyle rivalry. No West Coast hate.
It’s not Beat LA.
It’s just . . . beat the Rams.