Charles Dickens doesn’t collide with Los Angeles sports fans too frequently, but his opening phrase in 1859 A Tale of Two Cities applies to that book’s milieu and the performance of L.A.’s local teams in 2022: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” Go a little further and Dickens’ words resonate even more forcefully: “It was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.”
Is that overheated? Perhaps, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t accurate, because, during the past 12 months, followers of L.A. teams were generally at the poles. Some reveled in magnificent victory (the Rams!). Others nearly sobbed from heartbreak (the Dodgers!). Here’s how some of our teams made L.A. fans celebrate and suffer in 2022.
Los Angeles Wins in Los Angeles
On Feb. 13, the Super Bowl returned to the region for the first time in 29 years. It was a back-and-forth game in Inglewood, but when 60 minutes of football ended, the Rams hoisted the Lombardi Trophy with a 23-20 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals. Game MVP Cooper Kupp caught a late TD, and a defense powered by Aaron Donald sacked Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow seven times. It was the Rams’ first championship in L.A. since 1951.
Team owner Stan Kroenke had more or less mortgaged the future, going all in with big trades and high-dollar player signings to try to win a title in his $5 billion SoFi Stadium. Everything broke right—in the magical post-season run, coach Sean McVay knew how to perfectly utilize veteran quarterback Matthew Stafford.
However, the current season has been a disappointment, with the Rams now sporting a 5-10 record, and not close to sniffing the playoffs as seemingly the entire team got injured. Still, history shows that the L.A. Rams won in L.A.
Super Bowl LVI was memorable, but the halftime show was unforgettable, an electric love letter to and celebration of the city. The 14-minute extravaganza opened with Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg performing “The Next Episode” while the crowd lost their minds. They flowed into “California Love,” suddenly 50 Cent was rapping “In da Club” while hanging upside down, and low-riders were parked on the field. Mary J. Blige joined for “No More Drama,” Kendrick Lamar and Eminem appeared…and was that a re-creation of Tam’s Burgers on the football field? You bet. It’s just as thrilling on a second watch.
Nine months after the Rams’ victory, L.A. got another football, okay futbol, championship. On Nov. 5, Los Angeles F.C. squeaked by the Philadelphia Union in a shootout to score the club’s first title, which came in front of a screaming home crowd at Banc of California Stadium in Exposition Park. It may be a cliché to say that the battle for the MLS Cup had everything, but this match indeed had it all: lead changes, a pair of overtime periods, an ugly injury, an acrobatic late header by Gareth Bale to force the shootout, and backup goalie John McCarthy emerging as the unlikely hero. The victory in just LAFC’s fifth season in the league has set up a hunger for more.
The problem with championship or bust aspirations is that “bust” is the more likely outcome. The Dodgers experienced that in painstaking fashion this year when the Blue Crew had one of the most dominating seasons in Major League Baseball history, winning 111 games and smashing the second-place San Diego Padres by 22 games. Freddie Freeman hit .325, Mookie Betts clubbed 35 home runs, and Julio Urias notched 17 wins and a 2.16 ERA. Even the stench of an ugly scandal involving pitcher Trevor Bauer was fading as the playoffs began, and plenty of people were already planning where to sit for a parade. The problem is, everything flipped when the post-season began. The stellar rotation suddenly looked an arm or two short. The potent office forgot how to connect with runners on base. Manager Dave Roberts made a questionable bullpen decision at the worst possible time. The net result is those also-ran Padres eviscerated the high-priced Dodgers, knocking them out of the first round of the playoffs in four games. There may be plenty of reasons for what happened, but all are just excuses, and in the off-season, popular players including Justin Turner have left the team.
Fall of Troy
The Dodgers were not the only L.A. almost squad. The USC football team joined the ranks, as well. For those who forgot, the Trojans were basically the only pigskin game in town for the two decades that L.A. went without pro football, and although the glory years of Pete Carroll-coached squads were long gone, hope endured. First-year coach Lincoln Riley raised expectations, and transfer quarterback Caleb Williams was mesmerizing from day one. Everything almost turned out perfectly, as the Trojans rolled to an 11-1 record and a national number four ranking. All they had to do was beat Utah in the PAC 12 title game—and avenge the season’s only loss—to reach the college football playoff. The Dec. 3 game started off thrillingly, the Trojans racing to a 17-3 lead, but Williams got injured, and in the second half the hobbled QB was swarmed. It was a 47-24 loss. The cascade of “ifs” was somewhat mitigated by Williams winning the Heisman Trophy for being the nation’s best college football player.
The thing about the NBA’s Clippers is that, er, they’re the Clippers, and if there is the possibility of something going wrong, then it will happen. So it was last season—star forward Kawhi Leonard never played due to injury, and their other cornerstone, Paul George, appeared in just 31 of 82 games. Still, they competed and notched a 42-40 record. But before the final game to qualify for the playoffs, George tested positive for COVID-19, so was unavailable and they were bounced.
Is there light? Perhaps. For the first time in eons, Leonard and George are healthy, and the supporting cast is deep. As of this writing, the Clippers are 21-15 and sit in fourth place in the Western Conference. With coach Ty Lue, a crafty front office and owner Steve Ballmer willing to spend what it takes to win, the team is well-positioned to turn things around… or raise expectations and revert back into the historic Clippers.
A Drowning Lake Show
For all the Clippers’ travails, the Lakers have it worse. Much worse. They boast two of the league’s best players in LeBron James and Anthony Davis, but the aging stars have trouble staying healthy, and one of the worst front offices in the league can’t assemble a quality team around them. The franchise foolishly tied up more than $40 million in the contract of mercurial point guard Russell Westbrook, and they’re likely not going anywhere as long as he is on the team.
The 2021-’22 squad stumbled to a 33-49 record and finished 11th out of 15 teams in the West. This year is more of the same, a paper-thin roster and Davis’ boo-boos putting them currently at 14-21—they are 13th in the West. If Davis misses a lot of time, this could be a ceiling, rather than a floor. It’s sad to see James’ prodigious talents wasted.
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