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Rams embracing Hollywood, but will need Super Bowl run to get blockbuster billing

INGLEWOOD, Calif. -- Inside the bowels of SoFi Stadium, Los Angeles Rams coach Sean McVay strutted down the tunnel as a camera paced to capture every move and a meticulous eye examined each step.

"Nicely done," Academy Award winning cinematographer Wally Pfister said as he climbed out of a director's chair. "And cut."

On the eve of training camp, Pfister -- whose filmography includes "The Dark Knight," "Moneyball" and "Inception" -- directed McVay, defensive lineman Aaron Donald, quarterback Matthew Stafford and several other players through a no-expense spared shoot that will produce a 90–second hype film to play on the Infinity Screen before Rams games.

"It is very Hollywood," said McVay, as he stood on a field overtaken by a wardrobe truck, trailers, camera dollies, video monitors, crew members and extras. "Everything is first class and now we've got to make our football look like that."

In the shadow of Hollywood, the 35-year-old McVay hopes to direct his own blockbuster this season, one that will span 18 weeks then beyond, culminating in a February 13 date at SoFi Stadium for Super Bowl LVI.

"It's a motivation," McVay said about the chance to play in the final game of the season. "Without a doubt."

When the Rams open Sunday night against the Chicago Bears (8:20 p.m. ET, NBC), it will mark their sixth season in L.A. since returning from a 21-year stay in St. Louis. After a season played without spectators because of the COVID-19 pandemic, up to 70,000 fans will be allowed inside owner Stan Kroenke's $5 billion stadium that broke ground in 2016.

Kroenke's masterpiece, coupled with the Rams' opportunity to become the second team in NFL history behind the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last season to win a Super Bowl at home, means the season is bursting with enough intrigue and star power to excite a growing fanbase. Can the Rams put their stamp on a city that's accustomed to cheering on champions, including the defending World Series champion Los Angeles Dodgers and 17-time NBA champion Los Angeles Lakers?

"It's time to win one in football here in L.A." said receiver Robert Woods, who played at USC and grew up in Carson, 13 miles south of SoFi Stadium. Los Angeles hasn't seen an NFL championship since the Raiders prevailed in Super Bowl XVIII after the 1983 season, and the Rams' lone Los Angeles championship came in 1951.

"It would be cool to play at your own home stadium for the Super Bowl," said cornerback Jalen Ramsey, admitting he felt "a little extra" motivation.

In four seasons, McVay has delivered three playoff appearances, two division titles, an NFC championship and a Super Bowl LIII appearance that resulted in an uninspiring 13-3 loss to the New England Patriots.

After losing to the Green Bay Packers in a divisional playoff last season, the Rams made a stunning trade that sent quarterback Jared Goff, general manager Les Snead's top overall pick in 2016, two first-round picks and a third-round pick to the Detroit Lions for Stafford.

After playing 12 seasons in Detroit with three winless playoff appearances, Stafford arrived in L.A. to a cast of playmakers that includes Woods and receiver Cooper Kupp and with the understanding the expectation is a deep playoff run.

However, Stafford said hasn't since spent much time envisioning himself at SoFi Stadium covered in blue-and-yellow confetti.

"I can't sit there and spend a bunch of time daydreaming about that kind of stuff," Stafford said. "It's always nice to think about, but a majority of my time is spent trying to make sure that I'm ready to go every single day."

The Rams also signed veteran receiver DeSean Jackson, who spent the majority of the past two seasons sidelined because of injuries, but remains determined to be the deep-threat playmaker the team lacked last season. And in a late-training camp trade with the Patriots, they added running back Sony Michel to atone for a season-ending injury to Cam Akers.

"Feel as good as you could feel going into this," McVay said about the team's progress through training camp.

Three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year Donald and All-Pro cornerback Ramsey return to anchor the league's defending top-ranked defense. But gone is coordinator Brandon Staley, who departed after one season to become the Los Angeles Chargers coach.

Nineteen-year NFL coaching veteran Raheem Morris has taken over and will be tasked with inspiring repeat performances from outside linebacker Leonard Floyd, who is coming off a career-best 10.5 sack season, cornerback Darious Williams, who intercepted a career-best four passes in 2020, and safety Jordan Fuller, a sixth-round pick who started last season as a rookie and now has earned the title of captain and defensive signal-caller.

"We definitely are confident and believe that we can contend for our division and if we accomplish that, we might have a chance to have a few home playoff games," Snead said when asked if this was a Super Bowl-caliber roster. "At that point in time, it's heavyweight fights and we're confident that we’ll be ready to step in the ring and play those fourth quarters."

While McVay is acutely aware of Super Bowl LVI's location and the possibilities it presents, he remained adamant his attention was solely on Week 1 and the Bears.

"That's where my focus is and that's where our players are," McVay said. "Now, if you ask them and you say, 'Hey, do you want to play in the Super Bowl in your home stadium?' I think everybody would say yes. But they know the way that you get there is by being totally and completely present."

Back at SoFi Stadium, daylight gave way to dark as McVay continued through the storyboard that Pfister's crew imagined and worked to bring to life.

McVay walked the tunnel. He paced the locker room. And then broke into a light sweat, albeit with the aid of a crew member spraying him with a light mist, as he threw passes to Fuller, enacting warm-ups.

"We're trying to do it first class and not sparing anything on even just the entry video with our players," McVay said before he departed into the night. "It feels very L.A."

But for it to be a hit, it will need a championship ending.