Hernández: Rams have right mindset to keep winning and capture the hearts of L.A. fan base

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LOS ANGELES, CA - FEBRUARY 16, 2022: The Los Angeles Rams ride double-decker buses down Figueroa Street as crowds cheer during the Rams victory parade on February 16, 2022 in Los Angeles, California.(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)
The champion Rams ride double-decker buses down Figueroa Street as fans cheer during a victory parade. (Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

Here, in the birthplace of Donald Duck, in a city that reviles Donald Trump, he has become the greatest Donald of all.

Aaron Donald, the three-time defensive player of the year and seven-time All-Pro, is finally a Super Bowl champion. The Rams’ defensive tackle celebrated the new designation by discarding his shirt, which is how he ended up bare-chested on a stage by the Coliseum peristyle on Wednesday.

“I’ve been having a little fun tonight”— it was actually midday — “so if I slur my words I apologize," Donald said with a warm smile.

With his best player in a state of euphoric apparent inebriation, Sean McVay saw an opening. The coach slid by his players to reach the front of the stage.

Moments after Donald raised the Vince Lombardi Trophy and instructed the fans who attended the Rams’ championship parade to “drink as much as we do tonight,” emcee J.B. Long asked the question that was on everyone’s mind.

“Aaron,” Long said, “Sean McVay just tapped me on the shoulder. He wanted to know if you’re interested in running it back.”

McVay held a red cup in one hand. With his other, he snatched Long’s microphone and shouted into it, “Run it back! Run it back! Run it back!”

Donald doubled over with laughter.

“We built a super team,” Donald said. “We could bring the super team back. Why not run it back? We could be world champs again.”

The booze-infused phrase “run it back” is bound to be the team’s slogan next season.

Aerial view of crowds celebrating the Rams' Super Bowl LVI championship parade and rally on Exposition Park at the Coliseum.
Aerial view of crowds celebrating the Rams' Super Bowl LVI championship parade and rally on Exposition Park at the Coliseum. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Turning the mantra into a reality starts with the 30-year-old Donald, who told former NFL player and current NBC reporter Rodney Harrison before the Super Bowl there was “a strong possibility” he would retire if the Rams won the championship.

McVay was also the subject of retirement speculation, especially after speaking of burnout while the New York Post was reporting he could make upwards of $10 million annually as a broadcaster. “We’ll see,” he told The Times on Monday when asked if he would return to coach the Rams next season.

The players and coach could have been angling for contract extensions. Donald has three years remaining on his deal; McVay has two.

Would McVay have started a “run it back” chant if he didn’t intend to come back? Probably not.

“I think you saw Sean on stage today,” chief operating officer Kevin Demoff said. “He's ready to go defend our title.”

Donald’s declaration wasn’t legally binding, but the Super Bowl hero’s wish to see the nucleus of this Rams team return should be feasible.

Offensive lineman Andrew Whitworth is 40 and expected to retire.

One of the team’s foremost priorities should be linebacker Von Miller, who said Wednesday in the post-parade rally, “We gotta run that s---- back.”

Miller, who was acquired in a midseason trade with the Denver Broncos, will be a free agent. So will receiver Odell Beckham Jr., another midseason pickup.

Beckham looked destined to sign elsewhere — until he went down with what is believed to be a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his previously repaired left knee. A second surgery on that knee would almost certainly make his return to the Rams more likely, as it would decrease his value.

“The most important thing, if you want to try to run it back is you have your players who want to run it back,” Demoff said. “They're the ones who can make it happen. It's really in their hands if they want to run it back. That was the sentiment Sunday night. That was the sentiment the last few days. Hopefully, it lasts that way through the offseason.”

The front office doesn’t plan to change its approach.

Miller, quarterback Matthew Stafford and cornerback Jalen Ramsey were acquired by trading draft picks. The Rams’ last first-round pick was since-departed quarterback Jared Goff in 2016; they don’t have another until 2024.

General manager Les Snead finished addressing the fans with a defiant statement: “F them picks. We’ll use them to go win more Super Bowls.”

Owner Stan Kroenke needs them to, as the Rams still have plenty of hearts to win over in Los Angeles.

Fans were only one deep at many points on the parade route. There was enough space behind the barricades for the more enthusiastic of supporters to run alongside the buses and eventually pack the grass field in front of the peristyle.

As was the case on this Super Bowl run, luck is on the Rams’ side.

The Lakers stink and won’t have a parade of their own any time soon, which is probably why LeBron James practically begged for them to be included in Wednesday’s event on the basis of a championship they won in 2020.

Rams defensive end Aaron Donald holds up the Lombardi Trophy at as rally outside the Coliseum.
Rams defensive end Aaron Donald holds up the Lombardi Trophy at as rally outside the Coliseum at the conclusion of a victory parade. (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

The Dodgers should be in spring training this week, but their sport’s notoriously short-sighted owners have decided to lock out the players.

The most competitive sports market in the country is as open as it will ever be.

The Rams have the right mindset to take advantage of that, their attitude reflected in receiver Cooper Kupp’s homage to the late Kobe Bryant.

Kupp wore a black Lakers jersey with Bryant’s name on the back during the parade. The No. 8 that Bryant wore in the early part of his career was on the front; the No. 24 to which he later switched was on the back.

“Kobe's a part of this,” Kupp said. “He belongs here. And I'll tell you what, he set the standard. All I know, let's get back to work, let's run it back.”

That concept was familiar to Bryant.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.