By Don Wanlass
It may seem like a long time ago, but last February Los Angeles was celebrating its first Super Bowl championship since 1984 when the Raiders demolished the Washington football team 38-9 in Super Bowl XIX.
The Rams defeated the Cincinnati Bengals, 23-20 at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood Feb. 13, capping a wonderful season and earning this writer’s pick as the top Los Angeles sports story of 2022.
The fact that the Rams are 5-10 in 2022 doesn’t take away from their Super Bowl title and also overshadows the record-setting season the Dodgers had (they also had a pratfall at the end), the comeback season engineered by new head coach Lincoln Riley at USC, the Major League Soccer championship won by the Los Angeles Football Club and the Chargers qualifying for the NFL playoffs for the first time since 2018.
The Rams dominated the Super Bowl in the first half, but let the Bengals back in the game in the early minutes of the third quarter.
They dodged a bullet early in the third quarter and then treaded water for most of the second half until putting together a late drive for the winning score. Then the defense held on for the win.
It was the franchise’s second Super Bowl championship, but the first one in Los Angeles.
Wide receiver Cooper Kupp was the most valuable player of the game, catching eight passes for 92 yards and two touchdowns.
He scored the winning touchdown on a one-yard pass from Matthew Stafford with 1:25 to play in the fourth quarter as the Rams marched 79 yards in 15 plays with six minutes to go for the winning points.
Kupp gained seven yards on a crucial fourth down to get the drive started and caught four of his nine passes on the winning drive.
Stafford, who was acquired in the 2021 offseason to replace Jared Goff at quarterback, completed 26 of 40 passes for three touchdowns. He had toiled in obscurity for 12 seasons in Detroit before joining the Rams.
Three days after their Super Bowl victory, the Rams celebrated with a victory parade down Figueroa Street from the Shrine Auditorium to the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum — the stadium the Rams called home from 1946, when they moved to Los Angeles from Cleveland, to 1979 — after which they moved to Anaheim and then St. Louis.
During the victory celebration, Rams coach Sean McVay and several players promised to repeat as Super Bowl champs this season, but a series of injuries that sidelined Kupp, Stafford and Donald and decimated the offensive line, ended those hopes earlier than most people anticipated.
111 WINS, BUT … : The Los Angeles Dodgers had the best season in franchise history and one of the best seasons in baseball history. Then they went and lost to the San Diego Padres in the divisional round of the playoffs and ended up watching the Houston Astros defeat the Philadelphia Phillies for the World Series later in October.
The Dodgers finished the regular season with 111 wins (only three teams have ever won more), but couldn’t win when it mattered the most — in October.
The Padres eliminated them three games to one. The Dodgers scored five runs in the first three innings of game one. They scored five runs in the last 32 innings of the series.
Freddie Freeman and Trea Turner were the only players who hit close to their season averages. Everyone else struggled in the series.
It wasn’t manager Dave Roberts’ fault. Or team president Andrew Friedman’s. It’s just the way it went.
The Padres got hot at the right time. The Dodgers cooled off at the wrong time.
In retrospect, the Dodgers had too easy a regular season. They won the National League West by 22 games and didn’t play a meaningful game the last two months of the season.
When it came time to turn on the intensity for the playoffs, it simply wasn’t there.
And don’t expect anything like that run in the coming season. The Dodgers will be a different team in 2023. Shortstop Trea Turner has signed with the Philadelphia Phillies for an astronomical amount of money the Dodgers didn’t want to spend.
Center fielder Cody Bellinger, who had two horrid seasons at the plate, wasn’t tendered a new contract offer, making him a free agent. He signed with the Cubs.
Third baseman Justin Turner, the soul of the team and a clubhouse leader, was let go and signed with the Boston Red Sox.
Starting pitchers Tyler Anderson and Andrew Heaney also left for greener (as in money) pastures in free agency and Walker Buehler figures to miss all of 2023 due to Tommy John surgery. The only bright spot to the Dodgers offseason has been the signing of pitcher Clayton Kershaw to a new contract.
The Dodgers cupboard is not exactly bare. Mookie Betts and Freddie Freeman will still lead the top of the batting order with catcher Will Smith right behind them. Max Muncy should have a more productive season, so the Dodgers will still hit.
Just get used to seeing newcomers like Miguel Vargas and James Outman in the lineup on a regular basis. Both had highlights during their brief appearances with the Dodgers last season and they are the best hitters coming up from an always loaded minor league system.
Young pitchers Bobby Miller, Michael Grove and Ryan Pepiot might find their way into the Dodgers starting rotation next year, but the club has a big hole in the bullpen with no one having much experience as a closer.
Roberts and Friedman will have to figure that out once spring training starts in Arizona in about six weeks.
FIGHT ON: No one expected Lincoln Riley to turn the USC football program around as fast as he did. The Trojans were 4-8 in 2021 and had a roster so decimated that Riley brought in 25 players through the transfer portal in addition to a typical amount of incoming freshmen players.
But Riley struck gold in the transfer portal, starting with quarterback Caleb Williams, who he brought with him from Oklahoma.
The Trojans ended up 11-2, losing only to Utah on the road and then again in the Pac 12 Championship game in Las Vegas earlier this month. That loss cost them a chance to make the College Football Playoff tournament for the first time.
The consolation prize is the Cotton Bowl in Dallas, where the Trojans will play Tulane Jan. 2.
Williams, who became a starter at Oklahoma midway through his freshman season, was good from the beginning and got better as the season progressed.
He ended up winning the Heisman Trophy, cementing that award with outstanding performances in the Trojans last two games, wins over archrivals UCLA and Notre Dame.
He finished the season with 4,075 yards passing and 37 touchdowns while throwing only four interceptions in 448 attempts. He also led the Trojans in rushing touchdowns with 10.
But he wasn’t the only valuable transfer Riley brought in.
There was wide receiver Jordan Addison, who won the Fred Biletnikoff Award as the best receiver in college football in 2021 at Pittsburgh, and running backs Travis Dye and Austin Jones from Oregon and Stanford, respectively.
Addison caught 59 passes for 875 yards and eight touchdowns despite missing two games with an ankle injury. Dye gained 884 yards and scored nine touchdowns before breaking his ankle and missing the last three games.
Jones stepped in and replaced Dye and ended the season with 644 yards rushing and five touchdowns while averaging 5.7 yards a carry.
The Trojans still have some holes on defense, as Utah demonstrated twice, but the future looks a whole lot better for the Trojans than it did this time last year.
ANOTHER L.A. TITLE: The Rams weren’t the only champion team in Los Angeles in 2022. The Los Angeles Football Club, in only its fifth year of existence, won the Major League Soccer championship Nov. 5 in an epic championship duel that came down to penalty kicks.
After playing the Philadelphia Union to a 3-3 tie in more than 120 minutes of action, LAFC won the penalty kick shootout when backup goalkeeper John McCarthy made two diving saves, giving LAFC the title.
McCarthy entered the game in the 117th minute after goalkeeper Maxime Crépeau was given a red card for denying Cory Burke a clear goal-scoring opportunity with a foul. Crépeau also broke his leg on the play.
McCarthy was selected as the MLS Cup MVP for his two saves in the shootout. A Philadelphia native, he spent four years playing for the Union from 2015 to 2018.
LAFC tied the score eight minutes into overtime stoppage time when Gareth Bale, a late substitute, headed in a cross from Diego Palacios.
That goal came four minutes after defender Jack Elliott had given Philadelphia the lead when he put a right-footed shot from just in front of the right goal post into the bottom right corner of the net.
Then came the shootout, which LAFC won 3-0, giving them their first title.
CHARGERS ADVANCE: They still have two regular-season games to play, but the Los Angeles Chargers already know they will be playing football come wild card weekend Jan. 14 and 15.
The Chargers clinched their playoff berth with a 20-3 win over the Indianapolis Colts Dec. 26, their third straight win.
Much like the Rams, the Chargers have been hit by injuries all season, but some of their players are starting to get healthy and the Chargers have a chance to build up momentum as they approach the playoffs. Quarterback Justin Herbert has solidified his place among the top young quarterbacks in the game. He has thrown for 4,254 yards in 15 games so far this season with 21 touchdown passes.
Receivers Keenan Allen and Mike Williams have overcome injuries and provide him with two solid targets and running back Austin Ekeler leads the NFL in touchdowns with 16.
Defensively, safety Derwin James returned to the lineup Dec. 26 and defensive end Joey Bosa may be healthy come playoff time.
The Chargers might well be on this list next year as well.