Are the Chargers and Rams actually rivals Sunday?

COSTA MESA — The Angels and Dodgers have their Freeway Series. The Clippers and Lakers have their Hallway Series. The Ducks and the Kings have their Freeway Faceoff.

So, what do we call the Chargers-Rams rivalry? Is there actually a rivalry between two football teams sharing a stadium and a region?

The Angels have a history with the Dodgers.

Kind of, sort of.

The Clippers have a history with the Lakers.

Kind of, sort of.

The Ducks do have an actual history with the Kings.

They are, after all, the only two local professional teams to have played each other in the playoffs, with the Kings taking a dramatic seven-game series from the Ducks in the second round in 2014 that propelled them to their second Stanley Cup championship in a three-season span.

Since the Chargers arrived from San Diego in 2017 and the Rams relocated from St. Louis in 2016, the Chargers and Rams have played only once in the regular season – a Rams victory on Sept. 23, 2018, at the Coliseum. Sunday’s game will be only the 13th between the teams since 1970.

This season, the teams are riding different escalators, with the Chargers (9-6) having clinched a playoff berth on Monday night with their victory over the Indianapolis Colts and the Rams (5-10) unable to defend their Super Bowl championship during a less-than-stellar season.

So, again, are the Chargers and Rams actually rivals?

“You can never take a team lightly,” Chargers running back Austin Ekeler said, referring more to the disparity in the teams’ records than anything else. “This is the NFL. These guys get paid to play. Even though their playoff picture might be different from ours. I’m not really sure. What’s their record?”

A reporter responded with the answer.

“So, they’re 5-10,” Ekeler continued. “It doesn’t really matter. I don’t care about their record. They’re out there. They have a job to do. They have to win games for their own livelihood, for their own reputation in the league, for their next contract to stay on that team, so they’re going to be fighting just as hard as we are.”

In fact, it’s been a tough fit for each team as they struggle to find their niches in one of the most crowded sports marketplaces in the country, one dominated for decades by the Lakers and Dodgers. The Chargers and Rams are the newest kids on the block, although both had roots in L.A.

The Chargers played their first AFL season in the Coliseum in 1960 before moving to San Diego. The Rams spent years in Los Angeles before moving to Anaheim and then to St. Louis. Now, both teams are back and fighting to gain attention and build their fan bases in short order.

“L.A. is a tough city, just because there’s a lot going on, right?” Ekeler said. “I refer to it as a crowded neighborhood. We’re the new kids on the block. It’s not like everyone’s opening their arms and welcoming us, like, ‘OK, Chargers, come on. We’re fans of you.’ Even for the Rams. They won the Super Bowl last year and they’re still not getting that type of treatment out here.

“It takes time. It takes time to dig into the roots.”

There are ties between the Chargers and Rams. Defensive lineman Sebastian Joseph-Day, running back Sony Michel and linebacker Troy Reeder played on the Rams’ Super Bowl team before joining the Chargers this season. Defensive lineman Morgan Fox and tight end Gerald Everett also are former Rams.

Chargers coach Brandon Staley was the defensive coordinator on Rams coach Sean McVay’s staff in 2020, guiding the NFL’s top-ranked defense before he was hired to replace Anthony Lynn in 2021. Staley and McVay have remained close friends, exchanging text messages during the season.

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So, they are also rivals in name only?

“We had a really unique year together,” Staley recalled. “It was the COVID year. He’s a guy I did not know prior to interviewing with him. I knew of him through my good friend, Chris Shula (a Rams assistant coach), and knew a lot about him. We spent a lot of time together in a little bit less than a year.

“I think the stars aligned that way, philosophically. How you see the game in terms of offense, defense and the kicking game. … I certainly wouldn’t be here without him. There’s a lifelong friend. At the same time, we’re great competitors even though we’re good friends. This game is going to be about competition.

“I’m excited to take the field on Sunday.”

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