By Alex Hutton
LOS ANGELES — The Super Bowl is unique among major American sporting events in that it is played at a neutral site. On Sunday, that will be true only on a technicality.
For 54 consecutive years, the Super Bowl was never played at the stadium of one of the competitors. Remarkably, that trend has been bucked in each of the last two seasons. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers played in Super Bowl LV at Raymond James Stadium — albeit with limited attendance due to COVID-19 regulations — and this year the Los Angeles Rams will duplicate the feat when they face the Cincinnati Bengals in Super Bowl LVI at their own SoFi Stadium.
“I think you prepare in a lot of ways like it’s a home game,” Rams offensive coordinator Kevin O’Connell said. “We’ll be very familiar with the surroundings, the locker room, our sideline, things like that.”
However, making things more complicated for the Rams is the fact that SoFi Stadium is not known for having a massive home-field advantage. At each of the team’s two home games this season against the San Francisco 49ers — one during the regular season, one the NFC Championship Game — visiting fans appeared to be the dominant group and even forced the Rams to use a silent snap count at times.
“At different times this year, we’ve had to really have conversations about crowd noise and silent cadence and all those things,” O’Connell said.
The status of the Super Bowl as a neutral-site game means that neither team’s fans can dominate the atmosphere. According to the Los Angeles Times, the Rams and the Bengals each receive 18.5% of the available game tickets from the NFL to sell to their respective fanbases.
The even distribution of fans means the Rams may alter their strategy based on where they are on the field and which team’s supporters are nearby.
“Sometimes, you could possibly need to trigger a silent cadence, and then the very next play you might be out of it, depending on the situation,” O’Connell said. “We just have to be prepared for everything.”
As for the team coming into town, the Bengals — who are actually designated as the game’s home team due to NFL rules — are trying not to give too much attention to the Rams’ familiarity with the stadium. They are aware of the pressure of the Super Bowl but want to treat it as if they were playing the game at any other venue.
“That’s one thing we’ve focused on, just keeping this week as normal as possible,” Bengals cornerback Mike Hilton said. “Obviously, it’s not a normal week because we know where we’re at and we know what’s at stake, but guys are just focused on keeping the routine the same.”
As the Super Bowl nears, the impact of the host stadium remains to be seen, but the unusual structure of the home-road matchup is creating an exciting new opportunity.
“The acoustics, the noise and just the energy you feel from our stadium no matter what time of the game it is and what the score is, you always feel it,” O’Connell said. “So I imagine the Super Bowl will have an extra layer of that.”