LOS ANGELES — More than 3,000 first responders and people affected by the recent tragedies in Southern California were guests of the Los Angeles Rams for their Monday Night Football game against the Kansas City Chiefs.
The Rams’ training facility is located in Thousand Oaks, California, on the campus of Cal Lutheran, which is less than five miles from Borderline Bar and Grill, where 12 people were killed in a mass shooting on Nov. 7. The next day, the Woolsey Fire began and devastated a region that didn’t even have time to grieve. The fire burned 96,949 acres, killed three people, destroyed 1,452 structures and forced thousands to evacuate their homes in Ventura County and Los Angeles County.
When the Rams’ game on Monday was moved to the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum from Mexico City due to the poor field conditions at Estadio Azteca, the Rams provided thousands of complimentary tickets to first responders as well as those impacted by the recent tragedies. The Rams said they worked through fire and law enforcement agencies and local organizations to ensure tickets got into the right hands.
“The Los Angeles Rams practice right there at Cal Lutheran University,” Ventura County Fire Department Captain Stan Ziegler said. “Many of our fire department members sneak over there and look over the fence and watch our home team practice. It’s exciting for us to be able to come here. It’s great to make that connection with our hometown team. You would not believe what it means to us.
“Many of our firefighters have been on the road for two weeks. They haven’t seen their families. They haven’t been able to go home. Just to be able to come to the Coliseum and relax and be amongst their brothers and sisters who are firefighters who have been in the battle with them and get a chance to relax and watch a football game and eat a hot dog is just a fantastic boost for our morale.”
The Rams, however, did more than give tickets to the game to first responders and victims.
Karen and Jordan Helus, wife and son of Ventura County Sheriff Sergeant Ron Helus, who was killed in the Borderline shooting, lit the Coliseum Torch prior to kickoff and were joined by Paige Vuksic, Jordan’s girlfriend, Ventura County Sheriff Bill Ayub, Ventura County Assistant Sheriff Chris Dunn and Ventura County Sheriff’s Sergeant Kevin Donoghue. A memorial banner with the names of the 12 Borderline shooting victims was positioned in the Peristyle end of the Coliseum.
“It was a devastating night, but when Ron went in there and gave his life, no one else died,” Thousand Oaks police Sgt. Jason Robarts said. “He paid the ultimate price, and it’s great that the Rams are honoring him and his family. The Rams are part of the community in Thousand Oaks, and these past few days have been the toughest physically and emotionally of my career.
“The next day after the shooting, we’re putting on another hat and putting our emotions aside and helping residents evacuate and putting out fires until the department got there. After that was done, it was funeral services, so it’s been a seven-day stretch I’ve never experienced before in my life.”
Dylan and Derek Adler, the sons of Sean Adler, who lost his life in the shooting at Borderline, served as the Rams’ honorary water boys for the game. Sean Adler was a wrestling coach at Royal High School in Simi Valley and a member of the security team at Borderline.
“I didn’t really expect anything,” said Dylan, who is 17 years old and a wide receiver on the Simi Valley High School varsity football team. “I was hoping to get through the memorial and go on with life as best as I can, and for them to contact us and for me to be on the sideline now is amazing. It makes me feel good that other people are looking out for me, and I didn’t expect any of that.”
“This is amazing … once in a lifetime experience,” added Derek, who is 12 years old. “My heart’s beating so fast, I’m so happy.”
Players and coaches from both the Rams and Chiefs wore hats honoring a variety of Los Angeles area fire and law enforcement agencies, including the California Highway Patrol, LAFD, LAPD, LA County Fire Department, Ventura County Fire Department and Ventura County Sheriff. The agency’s logo was on the front of the cap, and the team’s logo was on the side. The game-worn hats will be auctioned off after the game, with the proceeds going to the Conejo Valley Victims Fund and American Red Cross Southern California Wildfire Relief. Game-worn jerseys also will be auctioned off, with proceeds going to the relief efforts.
“You can see the light at the end of the tunnel,” said Ziegler, whose son, Jacob, knew two of the victims of the Borderline shooting. “We can see that when our percentages of containment start going up day after day. We know we’re getting a handle on this fire, and it’s just a matter of days. I believe the expected day of full containment is Nov. 22.”
Members of the Cal Lutheran Choir sang the national anthem while first responders and members of the greater L.A. community held a field-size American flag. Cal Lutheran alumnus and former choir member Justin Meek was one of the 12 victims of the Borderline shooting. The Ventura County Sheriff’s Department Honor Guard presented the colors during the national anthem.
The Rams also recognized firefighters during the game, and proceeds from the in-game 50/50 Raffle will benefit the Conejo Valley Victims Fund, American Red Cross Southern California Wildfire Relief and United Way of Greater Los Angeles.
Before the game, Rams Hall of Fame running back Eric Dickerson was on the field talking to several first responders and those affected by the fire. Dickerson, who lives in Calabasas, was evacuated from his home last week and hasn’t gone home yet due to the air quality.
“I’m still out of my house,” Dickerson said. “My neighbor’s house burned down. Thank God I still have a home, but it was close, but I’m not going to go back for a while. My son has asthma, and it’s really bad near my house, but I had to come tonight. I think it’s great that this game is in Los Angeles. We had the shooting and the fires the day after, and this city has been through so much. It’s great to take a break for a minute, catch your breath, and look around and appreciate what you have.”