Eli Penny grew up in Los Angeles rooting for the Rams.
The St. Louis Rams.
"The Super Bowl when they played the Titans, I just remember everybody in my house was going for the Rams so I was just like ‘All right, I’ll go for the Rams, too'," the Giants fullback told Newsday. "From there on out, they were my favorite team ... I just remember the Greatest Show on Turf."
On Sunday, he will be part of a Giants team that will play in Los Angeles for the first time in a quarter century.
Because New York’s West Coast counterpart city lacked an NFL team for many of those years, the last time the Giants played there was Oct. 16, 1994. Dan Reeves was coaching a Giants team quarterbacked by Dave Brown. Chris Miller led the Rams to a 17-10 win at Anaheim Stadium with two touchdown passes. Chuck Knox was coaching the Rams.
And also because Los Angeles was bereft of an NFL presence for so long – 1994 was the last year the Rams played there before moving to St. Louis — an entire generation of players from there grew up never thinking they would get to play a game in their hometown. The Giants have two of them in Penny and rookie cornerback Darnay Holmes.
"It’s just a blessing to be back in the city and be able to play out there and show the kids who come from my area that anything they dream of and anything they desire is possible," Holmes said.
The Giants actually were supposed to play the Rams in California in 2016, their first season back there following their stay in the Midwest, but that game was moved … to London. This one will be played at brand new SoFi Stadium, a building that Penny and Holmes literally watched sprout from the ground.
"It’s crazy," Penny said. "I was born in Inglewood. I was born at Martin Luther King Jr. Hospital [about two miles from the stadium] and my grandma still lives over there. Whenever I was out that way I got to see that stadium, see when they just started it to what it is now. It looks good."
Holmes, who played at UCLA besides growing up in Pasadena, was less impressed.
"I drove by it a few times," he said. "But I wasn’t too caught up in that. Every day in L.A. something new is being built so there wasn’t too much of an attraction to it."
Unlike the Giants, Penny has played in Los Angeles much more recently. In 2016 he was a rookie for the Cardinals and his first NFL game was against the Rams at the Coliseum.
Penny said the "sucky" part of this trip will be the restrictions. Because of COVID-19 protocols he will spend the weekend essentially locked down in the team hotel. Even when the Giants spend an extra night there, Sunday to Monday, he won’t be able to get out and see friends and family. Nor will they be able to see him. Not in person, anyway. With no fans allowed at the game, they’ll all have to settle for knowing that they are so close to each other … yet still so far away.
"It’s a business trip so you don’t expect too much of that anyway, but that’s going to be kind of whack not being able to see family and eat at certain restaurants I like back at home," he said. "Just the feeling of being in the city and knowing my family is not that many miles away, it’s a good feeling. And playing back in that weather and that time zone, it’s going to be a good feeling too. It’ll be good to be back for a couple of days."
And of course, once the season is over, Penny and Holmes can return.
"I love it out there," Penny said. "Any chance I get I’m going back to the West Coast."
For the Giants over the past 26 years, those chances have been far fewer.