The Rams are back, but Los Angeles has changed

Riddick says Rams have a long, long way to go (1:16)

Louis Riddick joins SVP to break down the Rams' offensive struggles in a 28-0 loss to the 49ers, all of which start at the quarterback position. (1:16)

Homecomings can be joyous. But they can also be awkward, with a period of adjustment by all involved.

Returning can be especially difficult after more than 20 years away. That’s the situation in which the Los Angeles Rams now find themselves, coming back to Los Angeles after a generation’s absence.

Sunday's Rams game against the Seattle Seahawks in Los Angeles will be the first regular-season NFL game in Los Angeles since Dec. 24, 1994.

A lot has changed in the city in that time. In one respect, though, the Rams are returning to familiar ground. Until a new stadium is built, the team is playing at the L.A. Memorial Coliseum, the same place they played when the franchise first arrived in Los Angeles in 1946.

In 1980, Los Angeles officially passed Chicago as the nation’s second-most populous city. It has held that position ever since. Los Angeles County is now the most populous county in the nation, with more than 10 million residents.

After the Rams moved to St. Louis, the biggest population trend in Los Angeles was the steady rise of the Latino population. According to census projections, Latinos, mostly from Mexico, are expected to be the majority population in L.A. County by 2020.

The United States Census Bureau's 2015 census also revealed that Hispanics in Los Angeles County made up 48.4 percent of the population. In 1990, the last census taken before the Rams left for St. Louis, the percentage was 37.8.

Interestingly, though, Pew Research shows that most of the recent growth has happened not through immigration but through native growth of already established Hispanic families. Many are steadily spreading out of ethnic enclaves and into different neighborhoods.

In her book “Barrios to Burbs: The Making of the Mexican-American Middle Class,” USC Associate Professor of Sociology Jody Agius Vallejo writes, "... the growing second and third generation Mexican American generations will make up a significant proportion of the working age population, with demographers estimating that Latinos will constitute nearly one quarter of the labor force by 2050.”

It is no surprise, then, that on Aug. 13, the day the Rams played their first preseason game this season in Los Angeles against the Dallas Cowboys, a substantial portion of the fans in attendance came from suburban areas of L.A., such as the San Fernando Valley. While some drove and paid inflated parking prices around the stadium, others were more savvy and took advantage of public transportation options that didn’t exist when the Rams left for St. Louis.

“Red Line starts in North Hollywood. Only transfer once to drop-off at Coliseum,” said Mathew Alesana, who attended the preseason game with his family and arrived by subway.

"The Rams have a Latino fan base that existed before their return. They have had diehard fans. The challenge is to broaden that base to include Latinos that have pledged allegiance to other teams that once played in L.A., like the Raiders and Chargers." Priscilla Leiva, Cal State Los Angeles

Vallejo’s colleague, Priscilla Leiva, an Assistant Professor of Chicano/a and Latino/a Studies at Cal State Los Angeles, points out that given their history in the city, the Rams aren’t starting from ground zero with Hispanic L.A. fans.

“The Rams have a Latino fan base that existed before their return,” Leiva said. “They have had diehard fans. The challenge is to broaden that base to include Latinos that have pledged allegiance to other teams that once played in L.A., like the Raiders.”

Some of the history is a mixed bag, however.

“The Rams also have important historical figures like Tom Fears, who was born in Guadalajara, Mexico, played for the Los Angeles Rams (1948-1956) and became the first Mexican-American inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame.”

Leiva explained that some rejection from when the franchise moved to Orange County in 1980 still lingers.

“The Rams left the stadium they are playing in now [Coliseum] for Anaheim because of concerns about crime. They disparaged the predominantly black and Latino neighborhood surrounding the Coliseum to justify the financial incentives awaiting them in Anaheim.”

During the Rams' absence from Los Angeles, some Hispanic fans became supporters of other NFL teams, especially the Dallas Cowboys. At the preseason game at the Coliseum, though the Rams won 28-24, it was clear many in the crowd of the announced 89,140 were cheering for the Cowboys.

Maxi Rodriguez, though he professed to be neutral, attended the game with family members who rooted for the visitors from Dallas.

“My parents are Cowboys fans,” Rodriguez said, noting that they weren’t alone. “Cowboys fans outnumbered Rams fans.”

Alesana, whose family now has season tickets to Rams games, is a convert to the fandom. “I was a lifelong 49ers fan that made a promise to support an L.A. team when it came," he said.

The Sept. 12 Monday Night Football game between the 49ers and Rams might have been a little bitter for Alesana, as he watched his former team hold the current one scoreless in a rather ugly 28-0 game.

For many Los Angeles Hispanic fans, who are traditionally loyal, it might take some convincing to switch their allegiance to the Rams. With such a long absence from Southern California, it’s harder for a new generation of Latinos, who are more varied and less homogeneous than ever, to feel a connection to the team.

“More than anything, the Rams need to win and stand for something more than coming back home,” Leiva said. “Latinos don't want pandering. Teams like the Dodgers and the Raiders brought hope to Latino communities in difficult political and economic times. They echoed the struggle of Latinos in L.A. and brought hope for a second chance and for a better tomorrow. Nothing wins over a city like greatness.”

Based on their first regular-season game of the season, the L.A. Rams have a long way to go to win fans who want to see greatness. But it isn't impossible by any means. For some, the love of the game and the proximity of a hometown team have proven enough.

“Absolutely no regrets,” Alesana said of becoming a Rams fan. “Can't be happier to have football back in L.A.”

On ESPN Deportes: Read a Spanish-language version of this story here.