Rising with the Rams

Sam Lagana, the PA for the Los Angeles Rams

The official state colors of California are blue and gold.

Ergo, those are the colors of the athletic teams at the University of California and its branches; the Los Angeles Rams and the team formerly known as the San Diego Chargers (Yes, I have abandonment issues. More on that later).

My favorite team wears them (my alma mater UCLA).

The first team I cheered for still wears them … just not in my hometown of San Diego.

I was always an AFL girl, going to Charger games in the early 60s in Balboa Stadium when the backs of the jerseys read “Alworth,” “Hadl,” “Post,” and “Duncan.”

And then there was the second game of the 1967 preseason at the new San Diego Stadium, where the Chargers — who had spent their first AFL season of 1960 in Los Angeles — played the NFL team which had the first logo on helmets: the Rams.

Not sure how long grudges are supposed to last but, for a football-loving 12-year-old, the memory of the 50-7 drubbing by that team up the coast still lingers. The only good things about that game were seeing Roman Gabriel at quarterback and the “Fearsome Foursome.”

Ever since the “Bolts” bolted, I’ve been searching for an NFL team to cheer on. Thought about the Detroit Lions since they wear Honolulu Blue, the color I was told came via the signature blue of the late Honolulu Star-Bulletin’s masthead.


But perhaps now there is reason to “Rise with the Rams.”

Those watching the Rams-Cowboys game Sunday, Sept. 13, may have recognized the booming voice that echoed through SoFi Stadium, the first new football stadium in Los Angeles since the LA Memorial Coliseum broke ground in 1921.

Their PA announcer is Sam Lagana, the legendary “Jaws of the Beach” whose signature style was honed as the public address announcer on the AVP tour of the 1980s, with stops that included Fort DeRussy.

For Lagana, whose day job is Associate Vice Chancellor at Pepperdine, it’s the continuation of a dream. He remembers being 6 and walking through Tunnel 5 with his dad to watch the Rams at the Coliseum, some 23 miles from their home in Pacific Palisades.

Sunday brought back that childhood awe.

“The stadium is so magnificent, so amazing,” Lagana said in a phone call. “It overwhelms you as you approach it. It’s beautiful. It’s stunning. I get goosebumps just thinking about it

“Sunday was surreal. It was time to say, ‘Ladies and gentlemen, the doors are open.’ But (because of COVID-19 restrictions) there were no open doors, no filling the bowl. What there was was so many people standing outside the fences. People sending texts saying, ‘I just want to be here.’

“The Rams are home.”

Like many sporting venues across the country, fans could purchase cardboard cutouts of themselves to be placed among the 70,000 seats. The cost was $70 for season-ticketholders, $80 for the general public; Lagana had one that wore jersey No. 80 to honor friend and former Ram Bob Klein.

The absence of fans “breaks your heart,” said Lagana, the Rams PA since 2016 when the team returned to Los Angeles from Saint Louis. “Sunday, there was no one in the house except security and the people cleaning the ash from the seats that had come from the fires.

“But my role is to have fans be part of the experience. There were maybe 100 in there but my job was to make the experience special to them. I know I was excited. And I can’t wait to be able to welcome the fans coming in, seeing that mother or father holding the hand of their child just like I did when I was 6 and walking through Tunnel 5.”

Lagana has returned to Hawaii often, including accompanying the Pepperdine women’s and mens volleyball teams playing the Rainbow Wahine and Rainbow Warriors. While with the AVP, he watched the Wahine in Klum Gym — “one of the greatest home-court advantages ever,” he said — and later did the PA for Mountain Pacific Sports Federation tournament matches on the mainland in which the Warriors competed.

“I enjoy being a neutral party, not having a team in the game,” he said. “And I loved it when Hawaii played, with all their fans showing up.

“One of the greatest volleyball players I ever saw, the one I enjoyed most, was Pono Ma’a. I loved saying his name. I loved seeing him grow as a player and come to the pro tour. He and Allen Allen were both amazing. They epitomized Hawaii and Hawaii volleyball.”

(Ma’a (1983-86) and Allen (1986-89) were both All-Americans for the Warriors).

One of Lagana’s favorite memories of being in Hawaii was when the movie “Side Out” premiered at the Kahala Theaters in 1990. Lagana played himself in the cult classic about a a guy coming to California for law school, learning to play beach volleyball and winning a major tournament as a rookie.

The cast included real-life beach greats such as Randy Stoklos, Sinjin Smith, Steve Obradovich, Tim Hovland, Mike Dodd and Steve Timmons. But what Lagana remembers the most was when Ma’a came across the screen briefly.

“The crowd erupted in cheers,” Lagana said. “A local boy was in the movie.”

The 1985 Loyola Marymount graduate considers himself “a lucky guy.”

“I’m naturally enthused,” he said. “I don’t know if I’m any different with a microphone on or off.

“Sunday was overwhelming. It hit me that I had the opportunity to welcome America to the greatest stadium in the world. I get to be the first voice of SoFi Stadium. It’s humbling. I am blessed.”

Lagana is continually asked when fans will be able to return in-person to watch the Rams.

“I don’t know,” he said. “I don’t know if I want fans to come if it’s only 5,000 or 10,000 or 15,000. We may not see anyone in the stands until 2021.

“I wish they could be there and fill the stadium. We want them all to ‘Rise with the Rams.’”

Maybe I have found a new team.