When the door to the Rams’ locker room slammed shut late Sunday afternoon, there were three people not accustomed to being there among the players, coaches and football staffers. In the middle, as usual, was coach Sean McVay. On this day, he talked emotionally about the 36-31 win over Seattle. But he saved his most genuine, heartfelt words for people who are foreign to headlines.
McVay said he was giving out four game balls.
“Sophie Luoto and Kristen Lee!” McVay tossed each a ball.
“Bruce Warwick and Kate Kost!” McVay tossed Warwick a ball. (Kost, in Colorado preparing the Rams’ trip to practice there this week, in advance of their game in Mexico City next week, will get hers this week.)
All four work in football administration and operations for the Rams. When approximately 90 Rams players and staffers were evacuated from their California homes because of the wildfires that came within three miles of their workplace in Thousand Oaks (northwest of Los Angeles), Luoto and the crew found lodging for them (sometimes two or three lodgings, because hotel after hotel in the area got evacuated too), reunited families, found a Saturday practice facility, and kept the train moving. In the end, no one cares about your problems in the NFL. The ref was going to flip the coin at 1:20 Sunday afternoon, and the Seahawks were going to be ready, and you’d better be too.
“Somehow, we got ready,” Rams tackle and leader Andrew Whitworth said Sunday evening. “Pretty amazing, to be able to win a football game in circumstances like this.”
Circumstances like this.
Thursday morning, about 4:10. The cellphone on Whitworth’s night table kept vibrating. He picked it up to text from two former Bengals teammates, including NFL Players Association president Eric Winston. Like: Are you okay? Can’t believe what happened? Whitworth had no clue what happened, but he checked online and found there’d been a shooting at a Thousand Oaks nightclub. The place was four miles from the Rams’ training facility. There were deaths and injuries, perhaps many of each. Whitworth and his wife stayed up, trying to figure out what it all meant, particularly for their four children and school. And for what they could do to help whatever this latest mass shooting left in its wake.
Thursday, 10:35 a.m. McVay and Whitworth spoke to the team about being good community members in a time of crisis. Whitworth was at LSU when Katrina hit the Gulf Coast and said to his teammates, “Do something.You’ll never regret trying to help in a tragedy.”
Thursday, about 1 p.m. Before going out to practice, Whitworth decided to put his money where his emotion was. He called his wife, Melissa, and said he wanted to donate his gamecheck, about $60,000 after taxes, to a fund established to help the victims of the shootings, and their families. “I’m in,” Melissa Whitworth said. “One hundred percent.”
Thursday, about 3 p.m. At practice, two separate mega-fires popped up, visible for the players and coaches to see. “Those are pretty close,” Whitworth said. They were about three miles away from the practice facility, as it turned out. In a few hours, firefighters would dig a trench across the street from the Rams’ facility, the kind of trench that gets dug when firefighters are trying to stop a wildfire from advancing. Before Whitworth left for the day, he learned the 101 freeway, which he uses to get to and from his home in nearby Sherwood, was partially shut down. But he got home, as did most of his teammates.