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Cowboys fans loud and proud at Chargers’ SoFi Stadium: 'Felt like a home game'

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INGLEWOOD, Calif. — It was clear from when the Cowboys emerged from the SoFi Stadium tunnel at roughly 12:30 p.m. local time in preparation for organized pregame warmups.

Evidence further materialized when the Cowboys retook the field 45 minutes later, players jogging to the south end zone for a moment of prayer and reflection, the calm in the eye of a storm of energy.

And it was undeniable each time the Chargers faced third down, shouts of “DEFENSE” raining down on the home team.

“We felt it. We heard it. And we loved it,” wide receiver CeeDee Lamb said after the Cowboys’ 20-17 win. “Cowboys Nation definitely came out. Felt like a home game.”

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This was always to be the closest opponent to present a home game for owner Jerry Jones, who both grew up about a mile and a half from SoFi Stadium and also advocated vigorously for the building of the current structure.

California, too, has long been a Cowboys fan hotbed. The team’s national following, its decades of training camps in Southern California and Jones’ intentional fostering of the local fan base suggested it.

But “let’s go Cowboys” tropes were more prevalent Sunday afternoon than either fan base might have expected. Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy, coming off three-plus weeks of his first training camp in nearby Oxnard, was pleasantly surprised.

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“It’s awesome,” McCarthy said. “When we pulled in here last night coming from the airport, there was a truck with three or four huge Cowboys flags hanging out the back. You love to see that. Our fans are phenomenal and it definitely helps the players.

“It definitely felt in a lot of ways like a home game.”

Dak Prescott throws a pass against the Los Angeles Chargers at SoFi Stadium.
Dak Prescott throws a pass against the Los Angeles Chargers at SoFi Stadium.

Chargers head coach Brandon Staley downplayed Cowboys fans’ presence, saying his “focus was on the Powder Blue” Chargers fans.

“That team (Dallas) travels well, traditionally,” said Staley, who called SoFi Stadium home last season as Rams defensive coordinator. “But I didn’t hear them very much. I heard our fans and I was proud of the energy in that stadium for us.”

Regardless of who was making the noise, the atmosphere differed drastically from when the Cowboys and Rams christened SoFi Stadium a year and six days prior, the stadium empty of fans due to the COVID-19 pandemic and no vaccine yet on the market. Music was minimal that evening. Players likened the vibe to a scrimmage. Staley could hear the pads pop each time Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott was tackled. The 70,000-seat SoFi Stadium still resembled a futuristic spaceship but one without passengers yet along for the journey.

That was how cornerback Trevon Diggs and receiver CeeDee Lamb, the Cowboys’ top two 2020 draft selections, remember their NFL debuts.

“We really missed that last year,” said Diggs, who finished Sunday with six tackles and his second straight game nabbing an interception. “We needed them, a lot.”

Lamb agreed.

“The exact same stadium, just a big difference,” he said after catching seven of eight targets for 81 yards. “You could feel it, the energy on the different levels of the game.

“Love the fans.”

Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Jori Epstein on Twitter @JoriEpstein.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Cowboys fans loud and proud taking over SoFi Stadium vs. Chargers