COSTA MESA, Calif. – For the first time since 1994, the battle of Los Angeles will be decided on the football field.
The Los Angeles Chargers created the slogan “Battle for L.A.” in the team’s return to the city they originated, a saying that generated snickers here in Los Angeles and jeers from angry fans in their former city of San Diego.
The Chargers and crosstown rival Los Angeles Rams scrimmaged twice during training camp, with a fight breaking out the second time. The Chargers defeated the Rams in a meaningless preseason game last season, 21-19.
The teams will meet for real on the field during the regular season at the Coliseum on a date that will be announced when the NFL schedule is revealed on Thursday evening.
The last time two NFL teams in Los Angeles met in a regular season game in L.A. was Oct. 21, 1994, when the Rams hosted the Raiders at Anaheim Stadium, a game the Raiders won 20-17.
The Rams made some splashy headlines this offseason, trading for talented cornerbacks Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib, along with signing dominant defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh and speedy receiver Brandin Cooks.
That said, the Rams also had some talent go out the door as well, trading their best edge rusher Robert Quinn to the Miami Dolphins, along with shipping defensive captain and leading tackler Alec Ogletree to the New York Giants.
On paper, the Rams appear ready to defend their NFC West crown and make a deep playoff run when the season begins in September. However, as the self-proclaimed “dream team” the Philadelphia Eagles put together in 2011 (a team that stumbled to an 8-8 record that year) reveals, championships are not won on paper.
While the Rams have been busy in free agency, the Chargers have taken a more conservative approach, signing center Mike Pouncey, kicker Caleb Sturgis, safety Jaylen Watkins and tight end Virgil Green.
“I don’t really pay attention to it,” Chargers cornerback Casey Hayward said about the Rams. “Maybe I paid attention to the Marcus Peters thing, to Talib -- those are good players. But you can’t really focus on anyone else. It’s like the Lakers and the Clippers. They worry about themselves, and we’re trying to worry about ourselves -- the Chargers. ... I think we’ve got the right pieces. We’re right where we need to be, on the cusp.”
Added Chargers coach Anthony Lynn: “I’ve been so busy with the draft and combine and our team, I haven’t had much time to think about anybody else’s team. I’m sure they’re making decisions that are good for their program. It’s a good organization.”
The Chargers rewarded Hayward with a three-year, $36 million contract extension this offseason that included $20 million in guaranteed money after he made the Pro Bowl in his first two years with the team.
Hayward’s 11 interceptions since 2016 ties him with Peters for the most in the NFL over that time frame, while his 53 pass breakups lead in the league over that same period.
Hayward was voted second-team All-Pro last season, finishing with four interceptions and 26 pass breakups.
“It just means stability for myself and for my family,” Hayward said about the new deal. “This is the place I wanted to play for longer and longer. I want to end my career here, play as long as I can.
“Ultimately, I want to be one of the best to ever play --- as a Charger. For two years I’ve started to go in the right direction. Hopefully this year I can make it three and continue to build my legacy on and off the field.”
Hayward said Year 2 in Los Angeles should be a much easier proposition for the Chargers.
“Now, everyone knows the routine,” Hayward said. “We’ve got the same coaching staff, the same strength and conditioning staff. Everyone is on the same routine.
“We’re here grinding. We know how close we were last year to reach our ultimate goal and that’s winning the division and making the playoffs. We felt like we’re right on the top of the hill. These steps in the offseason help us get over the hill.”