Rams fanatic, 91, shows deep roots team has in Los Angeles

Lewis Lazarus would go to the game, but he doesn’t get around so well anymore.

“Three days ago, I started using a cane and it already bugs the hell out me,” he said. “I want to throw that cane in the ocean.”

He would watch the game on television with his immediate family, but his parents have passed, his sister has passed, his son has passed, and he no longer has any living relatives.

“I guess the Rams are the last family I have,” he said.

Like all the most longtime of Los Angeles Rams fans — an ancient and resilient bunch unmatched in this city’s sports landscape — the 91-year-old Lazarus will watch Super Bowl LVI on Sunday between the Rams and Cincinnati Bengals surrounded mostly by memories and dreams.

Super Bowl LVI coverage

He wants them to win for all those Sundays he sat in the Coliseum as a teenager and cheered Bob Waterfield and Elroy Hirsch, whom he helped as a Rams training camp ball boy when the team moved here from Cleveland in 1946.

“My favorite was Crazy Legs,” Lazarus said. “He could really move.”

He wants them to win for all those years he took those long Sunday afternoon drives with his mother to the games in Anaheim, one of the few fans who forgave them for moving out of the city of Los Angeles.

“I didn’t care where they played, they were still the Rams,” he said.

He wants them to win for all the times he felt like he was the only Angeleno still cheering for them when they left Southern California for St. Louis. He would visit local bars every fall Sunday morning and beg the owners to show the St. Louis Rams games on television.

“I never held a grudge against them,” he said. “They wore the same helmets. They were the same team. They were my team.”

And he wants them to win because they had the grace to return while he was still alive, giving him one last chance to see them in person at SoFi Stadium earlier this season, a game that ended with him leaving the giant palace in a wheelchair because the walking was so onerous.

“As always, I was thrilled to go,” he said. “I just don’t know if I’ll get back again.”

Now, come Sunday, Lewis Lazarus literally dreams of seeing them take the final step and winning their first Super Bowl championship while he’s still alive.

“Sometimes when I can’t sleep I think of all the times I’ve seen them play, how much a part of my life they’ve been,” he said. “I don’t want to think about dying … but to see them win would make me feel real good.”

A Super Bowl win would brighten the lives of many like Lazarus, a hearty and faithful group that has endured more than any fan group in town. Their allegiance dates back 76 years, long before any other major pro sports team showed up, outlasted only by fans of USC and UCLA football.

They have endured four location moves — from the Coliseum to Anaheim to St. Louis and back to Los Angeles — that would have wiped out many other fan bases.

When observers have scoffed at the lack of Rams fans at home games during the last six years, they have failed to realize many of the most fervent Rams fans are aging and unable to attend those games.

While the Rams are making big strides in capturing a younger demographic, their best and most dedicated fans are their oldest fans such as Lazarus, who have cheered them through two-win seasons and 13-win seasons, through Fearsome Foursomes and Greatest Show on Turf and Melonheads and Who’s House- Rams House.

Most memorably and most rewarding for the Los Angeles-based group, they have cheered them through that one glorious 1951 season during which the Los Angeles Rams won their only NFL championship … which, incidentally, Lazarus missed. He was in a hospital in Korea where he had been serving in the Army in the Korean War.

“Their greatest moment and I wasn’t there,” he said. “I’ll tell you, after that, I didn’t miss much.”

Lazarus won’t miss it Sunday. He’ll take 10 steps outside of his Santa Monica apartment and go next door to the home of close friends Wayne and Debra Camp and watch their 65-inch screen from his spot on the couch. He will bring his stuffed Rams toy. He will pass it around after every Rams score. He will scream in pain when they are stopped. He will rise to his aching legs when they succeed.

  Rams cornerback Jalen Ramsey is introduced before the NFC championship game.

Lewis Lazarus will be cheering when Jalen Ramsey and the Rams take the field for Super Bowl LVI.

(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

“I want this for Lewis,” said Camp, 58, an assistant director of prospect management at UCLA. “We don’t know when the Rams will have another chance, and this will be a wonderful gift for him.”

It was a gift that began giving at the Rams’ first exhibition game on Sept. 6, 1946, at the Coliseum against the Washington Redskins. Lazarus, who was 14 and newly transplanted from New York, was there. The announced crowd was 95,000, and he was hooked.

“From that moment, they were the big thing in my life,” he said.

He bought single tickets at first, and even kept trying to follow them when he joined the Army in the late 1940s, sneaking out of basic training in San Luis Obispo to watch them Sundays.

“I loved football, and they were the only game in town,” he said.

Once he returned from Korea, he settled into an administration job in Los Angeles County and bought season tickets for several decades. He eventually would attend every game with his mother. Even after the Dodgers and Lakers showed up, his love for the Rams never wavered.

“Are you kidding me?” he said. “I’ve seen more Rams games than anybody.”

He’s seen the Rams play in 17 stadiums. He’s seen the Rams play in two Super Bowls. His most memorable game was all of them.

“The Rams are his life,” said Camp.

Lazarus doesn’t love them for the autographs — he has none. He doesn’t love them for the stars — as an adult he’s only met Eric Dickerson, and that was only during a chance sighting at a restaurant.

Lewis Lazarus loves the Rams, as do so many in his generation, for the connection to his past and for the constant presence in his life. For years after his mother Helen died, every time the Rams would win, Lazarus would wistfully talk about calling her and sharing the victory.

The one game he wanted to see this year symbolized that connection. He actually wanted to see the Rams play the Detroit Lions because he wanted to see his old quarterback buddy Jared Goff.

“He never needed an autograph or a photo to remind him how much he loved watching them play,” Camp said.

When the Rams moved to St. Louis in 1995, Lazarus read a story where one of the Anaheim fans known as the Melonheads was cited as the team’s greatest supporter. He was so outraged he sent a letter of complaint to Rams executive John Shaw. For the next several years, Shaw left him tickets for various road games, allowing him to stay in touch.

  Rams quarterback Kurt Warner throws a pass in Super Bowl XXXVI.

Kurt Warner led the Rams to a pair of Super Bowl appearances when the team was in St. Louis

(Doug Mills/Associated Press)

It was after one of those road games where I first met Lewis Lazarus, in 2009 in Seattle, Lazarus announcing to me during a flight to Los Angeles that he was the team’s greatest fan.

I promised to write about him, took his number, then forgot all about it. After all, the Rams weren’t even back in Los Angeles yet, and who would want to read about a guy cheering for an out-of-town team?

Thirteen years later, this week, I finally made the call.

“I’m still here!” he shouted into the phone.

The Rams are back, the Super Bowl is back, and The Great Lewis Lazarus never left.

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