LOS ANGELES (AP) When the Rams announced their return to the Los Angeles area Tuesday night after 21 years away, hundreds of their long-faithful fans celebrated in the streets from downtown to Inglewood.
Winning over the rest of the Southland's 18 1/2 million people is going to take a bit longer, but the Rams have a head start on rebuilding something special when they restore professional football to the nation's second-largest market this fall.
The NFL officially approved the Rams to return to the city where they played for 49 years before leaving after the 1994 season, and Los Angeles should know soon whether the Chargers will join them this fall.
After two decades of false starts and wrong turns on the NFL's road back, Los Angeles wasn't exactly filled with citywide joy - but true Rams fans celebrated.
''It's something that I never thought I'd see again,'' said Rodney Lusain, 44, of Inglewood. ''You know, 21 years is a long time. You lose hope from time to time, but the dream stayed alive. My `Ram-ily' out here wouldn't let the dream die, and now we're waking up to a new reality. The Rams are coming home!''
A few fans in Rams gear walked through the downtown LA Live entertainment complex in festive moods. The mood was even better in suburban Inglewood, where a large group of steadfast Los Angeles Rams boosters gathered at the site of Rams owner Stan Kroenke's proposed stadium, which is expected to open in 2019.
Those supporters waved yellow and blue flags and chanted ''LA Rams!''
Lusain said he was 8 years old when the Rams lost the Super Bowl in Southern California. He recalled ''crying on my couch.''
''But this is way sweeter than any of the sour moments that I might have had growing up,'' he said.
One fan at the rally waved a giant cut-out of the head of Kroenke, which has become a talisman for Rams fans since the franchise's visit to Southern California for two days of training camp five months ago. Kroenke plans to use private funds to build a sprawling, $2.66 billion complex at Hollywood Park centered on a domed stadium that will host the Rams and perhaps another team - and conceivably every event from the Final Four to the World Cup.
John Goforth, 58, of Laverne, has remained a fan of the team through its tenure in St. Louis, traveling to games in Phoenix and San Diego.
''I grew up as a Ram fan,'' Goforth said. ''When I was a kid we would pretend we were the Fearsome Foursome, and we'd play against each other in the streets or at the schoolyard. You became a fan or you stayed a fan. I always had hope that they would come back.''
He said he plans to be at the team's first game back, especially if it's at the Coliseum.
''It's special,'' Goforth said.
The Rams have moved to this town before: In January 1946, Cleveland Rams owner Dan Reeves overcame other NFL owners' objections and moved his team to the West Coast, citing losses at home and the boundless opportunities in L.A.
Almost exactly 70 years to the day later, Kroenke used some of the same reasoning to justify the reversal of the decision made by the late Georgia Frontiere to move her late husband's team to St. Louis.
''With the NFL returning home, Los Angeles cements itself as the epicenter of the sports world,'' said Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, a major proponent of the city's 2024 Olympic bid. ''We cannot wait to welcome the Rams, and perhaps others soon, as they join a storied lineup of professional franchises, collegiate powerhouses, and sports media companies.''
Los Angeles' enthusiasm is likely to be tempered at least until the Rams take the Coliseum field for their exhibition opener in August. After all, any Angelenos currently old enough to buy alcohol were alive when Frontiere and Raiders owner Al Davis ripped their teams out of town almost simultaneously after years of declining attendance and fan interest.
NFL apathy still exists among many fans with long memories, while younger fans have grown to love other franchises while watching the NFL's best teams on television every weekend.
Lakers coach Byron Scott is an Inglewood native, but he grew up as a fan of the Pittsburgh Steelers before adopting the San Francisco 49ers to support old friend Ronnie Lott. Like many Angelenos, he isn't converting to blue and gold right away, although he plans to root for the Rams when they're not facing his favorite teams.
''It's great for the city of Inglewood, there's no doubt about it,'' Scott said. ''I'll be going to some Rams games. I'm not saying I'll be a Rams fan, but I still have my loyalties to my Steelers and my 49ers.''
The Rams are joining a packed sports landscape that includes two baseball teams, two NBA teams, two NHL teams, two major college athletics programs and a host of individual sports.
Scott believes L.A. is vast enough to support it all.
''The city of Los Angeles and Inglewood can handle a pro football team as well as a basketball team,'' he said. ''I'm not worried about that. It's been able to do that before. It'll be great for fans that have been without professional football for so long. That's unusual in a market like this.''
Associated Press writer Robert Jablon in Inglewood contributed to this report.