LOS ANGELES (CBSLA/AP) – With emotions still raw and recovery efforts underway across the Southland following both the devastating Woolsey Fire and the tragic Thousand Oaks massacre, the Los Angeles Rams used their tilt with the Kansas City Chiefs Monday night to honor first responders and victims of both incidents.
The team gave out thousands of complimentary tickets to fire and law enforcement agencies, such as the Ventura and L.A. County Fire departments, California Highway Patrol, the U.S. Forest Service and the American Red Cross. It’s part of the theme the Rams have adopted for the game: “LA Together.” Fans received “LA Together” rally towels as they entered the stadium.
After having the toughest two weeks of his firefighting career, Ken Roberts spent his first night off at one of the NFL’s most anticipated games of the season.
The Ventura County Fire Department Captain was was one of many first responders who received tickets as the Rams honored those impacted the past two weeks by the shooting at a Thousand Oaks bar and Southern California wildfires.
“The past couple weeks as a firefighter is the toughest I have experienced,” Roberts said. “To have one monumental event and have the active shooter was enough for one whole career. Then you add on a fire that impacts the exact same area, we just didn’t have a chance to breathe.”
The Rams train in Thousand Oaks, where 12 people were killed in a mass shooting at the Borderline Bar & Grill on Nov. 7. The next day, the Woolsey and Hill fires broke out in Ventura and Los Angeles counties, forcing thousands of people to flee.
Roberts got off work Monday morning. He then picked up his wife and son before heading to the LA Memorial Coliseum to enjoy the game with friends and colleagues. The game was originally scheduled to be played in Mexico City before the NFL moved it back to Los Angeles due to poor field conditions.
“To come together, take a deep breath and watch some good football is monumental,” Roberts said.
The Thousand Oaks Titans youth football team, who trained at the Rams facility last Friday before its Pacific Youth Football League final, were also at the game after being treated to a pregame VIP tailgate party.
“It was very hard. We had kids coming in from as far as San Bernardino and Long Beach where they had been relocated. They came every night, just sometimes we didn’t have fields to practice on,” coach Steve Szakos said.
Several of the 25 players — including quarterback Jacob Poley — were evacuated from their homes. Poley and his family have returned home, which is still standing.
“This has taught me to be more thankful and that nothing is for granted. You have to appreciate everything,” the 14-year old Poley said.
The California Lutheran University Choir sang the National Anthem and were joined by first responders, who held the flag. Cal Lutheran alumnus Justin Meek, who was one of the 12 victims in the shooting, was a member of the choir for four years.
“They are honored to be singing and share in everything. For these students to go back out and be with other people is good,” choir director Wyant Morton said.
Karen and Jordan Helus, the wife and son of fallen Ventura County Sheriff Sergeant Ron Helus, lit the LA Coliseum torch prior to kickoff.
Ventura County Sheriff sergeants Jason Robarts and Dave Brantley both knew Helus for over 25 years and said that he would be overwhelmed with the outpouring of support for his family.
“Seeing everyone come out it makes you get through it a lot easier,” Robarts said. “The guy was one of the most tactically sound. If there was someone I wanted to go in and deal with a situation it was this guy. What is hard is we had the right person doing the job.”
Dylan and Derek Adler, the 17- and 12-year old sons of Borderline victim Sean Adler, served as honorary water boys for the game. Sean Adler was a member of the security team at the bar.
“It’s a way to get my mind off everything. It’s almost overwhelming what people are willing to do for us,” Dylan Adler said.
The Rams also honored several local firefighters during in-game tributes. The Rams and Chiefs captains were joined at midfield for the coin toss by L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti and the mayors of the other cities most affected by the Woolsey Fire and Borderline shooting.
A memorial banner with the names of the 12 Borderline shooting victims was positioned in the peristyle between Gates 1 and 33.
Money raised during the game’s 50-50 raffle was donated to several fire relief agencies, including the Conejo Valley Victims Fund, American Red Cross Southern California Wildfire Relief and the United Way of Greater L.A.
Game-worn jerseys will be auctioned off on NFL Auction, with proceeds going to the relief efforts. Players and coaches from both teams wore hats honoring a variety of Los Angeles-area fire and law enforcement agencies. The agency’s logo is on the front of the cap and the team’s logo is on the side. The hats will be auctioned off on NFL Auction.
Last week, CBS2 and KCAL9 teamed up with the Rams and the United Way in a telethon that raised more than $1.1 million for fire victims.
Click here for information on other ways to help those impacted by the fires through housing assistance, care for animals and more.
The Rams and Chiefs were originally slated to play their Monday night game in Mexico City. However, poor field conditions at Azteca Stadium forced the NFL to move it to the Coliseum.
This will be the first “Monday Night Football” game at the Coliseum since Oct. 28, 1985, when the then L.A. Raiders defeated the San Diego Chargers, 34-21. The last time the Rams played a “Monday Night Football” game at the Coliseum was Nov. 19, 1979, when they defeated the Atlanta Falcons, 20-14.
The Rams defeated the Chiefs in a 54-51 thrill that marked one of the highest-scoring games in NFL history.
(© Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)