Alexander: Rams’ Fan of Year nominee cheers with a purpose

On the surface, the guy in the royal blue and gold superhero costume roaming the concourse at SoFi Stadium on Sunday afternoon might seem like just another superfan showing his loyalty to his favorite football team, the Rams.

Underneath, there’s a deeper purpose.

“I’m here for the little guy,” Gus Obregon said.

The Downey resident and lifelong Rams fan – yes, even during those lost 25 years the teams spent in St. Louis – dresses up as “Ramator” on game days. He’s been doing so since last season, when fans were allowed into SoFi Stadium after a year of COVID-19 restrictions, and he has been nominated by the Rams for the 2022 NFL Fan of the Year voting.

He started rooting for the team in the early 1970s, when Lawrence McCutcheon was the featured running back, Roman Gabriel was the quarterback and Merlin Olsen anchored the defensive line.

But his presence as an unofficial mascot, helping pump up the crowd during key moments, is only part of his story. Obregon is actively engaged with the Autism Society of Los Angeles, a Torrance-based non-profit that serves L.A. County residents affected by autism.

He is also active in anti-bullying campaigns through the Elite Super Fans group, which encompasses fans of all 32 NFL teams and, according to its website, is dedicated to promoting “unity of all fans, encourage sportsmanship and to stop all forms of bullying.”

The story behind the costume?

“I have a grandson who is autistic and he loves Spider-Man,” Obregon said. “And one Halloween we were looking to put together something so he (could) go in a Spider-Man outfit. I go, ‘Grandpa can’t find a Spider-Man mask like that.’ And he saw a predator, and he goes, ‘Well, what about this Spider-Man mask?’”

Long story short, his grandson came down with a cold on the day they were going to go to a game. Obregon, noting that a friend of his had been showing up to games in costume, decided that he’d do the same, to represent his grandson.

“I went and bought a Rams decal, put it on my helmet, and as soon as I hit the tailgate, it was overwhelming,” he said. “Everybody wanted to take a picture. I had an autism sticker, (on the side) for my grandson. And all of a sudden, I started having all these autistic children or parents (saying), ‘Hey, I work with or have a family member who is autistic.’ And it started to evolve a little more.

“And then thereafter, I would get calls from parents that were on that side of the stadium, because their kids felt comfortable with me. And I started just walking from section to section, just sitting next to them and cheering with them. And it’s like they had a friend in me. And it was us. We were one team, you know, myself, that autistic child and those parents, and they felt comfortable. And so it started from there and it just kept going.”

He is, as you might imagine, very popular during pre-game tailgating, which he does normally with the Rams World Order booster club. That group has also helped him promote fundraisers for the Autism Society of Los Angeles, which provides help and support to those with autism and other disabilities and their families.

“I’m not on their payroll,” he said. “It’s something that I do basically out of my heart, to give back, because my grandson has received assistance. … Their vision (is) creating a future for individuals with autism or some type of disability where they can actualize their potential to be a full participant in society.

“All those autistic fans that you see coming into the stadium? A lot of those pass through our tent, and I’m happy to be there for them and I’ll continue to be there for them.”

The anti-bullying initiative, as part of the Elite Super Fans platform, is focused on eradicating such behavior inside stadiums as well as out. The effort probably can seem overwhelming on game days, when the combination of alcohol, testosterone and fan loyalty kicks in.

(Although it’s not always just the men who stir things up. There was a social media clip last week of a female Raiders fan aggressively taunting a male New England Patriots fan following the crazy ending last week in Las Vegas, and the Patriots fan just stood there and didn’t react.)

Patriots owner Robert Kraft has invited this Patriots fan to this weekend’s game at Gillette.

Jerry Edmond -at his first NFL game- kept his composure while an obnoxious and aggressive Raiders fan got in his face.

I think his 2nd game will be better!

— David Wade (@davidwade) December 22, 2022

Obregon described an incident during the Rams’ season opener against Buffalo, when a Bills fan from Buffalo got into the face of a Bills fan from SoCal over the look of his shirt.

“If you go to Rams games, sometimes people will bling out shirts (with) rhinestones,” he said. “They make their own stuff, but it’s Hollywood. And this gentleman did the same thing, but when these (traveling) fans came by they were making fun of him, and it happened to be in front of our area … the Rams fans had to kind of get in between (them).”

Obregon could relate better than most.

“Football was a luxury” when he was young, he said. “It wasn’t something that my parents were buying shoes, hats, jerseys. My dad was a carpenter. My mom was a seamstress. I came from a family with seven kids.

“So the kids on my block would be playing football. They would get a football or they got jerseys. … And so one year I took a white T-shirt and decided to put ‘McCutcheon’ on the back of my shirt and called it a jersey. And I went out there to play with all the kids, and they made fun of me. But it was just who I was. I was a Rams fan.”

Thus, he learned two lessons at a young age that stuck with him. The first: Mocking or bullying those who don’t have as much just isn’t right.

And the second: When you’re a fan from an early age, it takes a lot to douse that loyalty. Not even the Rams’ 25 seasons away from home dissuaded Gus Obregon.

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