WESTMINSTER, Calif. — You’d miss it if you weren’t looking for it. Sal Martinez’s Golden Ram Barber Shop, something of a destination spot for die-hard Los Angeles Rams fans in Southern California, sits tucked between an auto supply store and a liquor store in a nondescript strip mall in this Orange County city, 30 miles south of where the Rams currently play.
Once you step inside, the room opens up.
The walls of this narrow, 680-square-foot space are packed with Rams memorabilia, both personal and professional. A banner proclaiming “Los Angeles Is A Gurley Town” welcomes you, filling a wall behind a street sign for “Isaac Bruce Dr.” A leather chair within a 1970s-style blue-and-yellow helmet sits just left of the door, turned toward the hundreds of framed Rams posters, pictures, magazine covers, newspaper clippings and keepsakes.
“I can give you a story about every picture I’ve hung in this shop,” Martinez said. “It all matters to me.”
Martinez saw the Rams on television as a 7-year-old in 1969 and made it his mission then to collect everything he ever saw related to them. He vowed to someday open his own shop and dedicate it to his favorite team. That day finally came in 1994, the year before the Rams packed up their belongings and moved to St. Louis.
“I always felt the Rams were going to come back,” Martinez said. “I always told people that the Rams were on a 30-year road trip.”
Martinez’s shop is suddenly alive on this Friday afternoon, the day before the Rams host the reigning NFC champion Atlanta Falcons in the first NFL playoff game in L.A. in nearly 25 years. It’ll be the Rams’ first playoff game at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum since 1978, and some of the people in Martinez’s shop have Rams roots which predate that.
Chuck Parido Jr., 57, was raised by a father whose living room was painted blue and yellow in honor of the Rams. His father passed away a couple of months after that 1994 season, Parido said, “and he literally died of a broken heart.” This resurgent season — with the Rams 11-5 one year after finishing 4-12, while leading the NFL in scoring under first-year head coach Sean McVay — means “everything” to Parido.
“I want to live,” he said. “I want to see this play out, and I want to do it with my friends and my family.”
Martinez’s 26-year-old daughter feels the same way.
“I tell my dad all the time, ‘Football is family,'” Brianna Marraccini said. “This is what we share together, and I cherish it so much. We have this bond, and it’s because of the Rams.”
One of Martinez’s favorite items in his shop is a three-photo wall frame of his daughter. In the top photo, she’s eight months old and toppled by a giant Rams helmet. In the bottom photo, she’s in her mid-20s and at the Coliseum, welcoming the Rams back after a 22-year hiatus.
The Rams never won when Martinez took his daughter to their games in 2016. One day, it rained. It was Jared Goff‘s debut, against the Miami Dolphins on Nov. 20. The Rams blew a late, two-score lead and fell to 4-6. The rain wasn’t letting up, and as they walked to the parking lot, Marraccini’s mascara was running. Martinez felt bad. He could sense her disappointment.
“You know,” he told her, “it gets better than this.”
“I know, Dad,” she said.
Nobody could’ve ever imagined it would get this much better. Not this fast.
Talk of the Rams’ stunning turnaround fills the shop, after the patrons exhaust themselves riffing about the missed opportunities of the 1970s, the shortcomings of Jeff Fisher and, of course, the magic of those blue-and-yellow uniforms. Kyle Parido, 21, wears a Jack Youngblood jersey to every game, even though he was born 12 years after his final season. David Main, 19, was captivated by the horns at an early age and became a Rams fan in a house full of people devoted to the Dallas Cowboys.
“They’re the lost generation,” Brad Markell, a 50-year-old die-hard Rams fan since 1973, points out.
Martinez thinks that lost generation is starting to turn in favor of the Rams, because that’s what winning will do in this city. He estimates that less than 10 percent of the people who typically come to his shop support the Rams, but the numbers are growing. On a typical week at this time last year, Martinez saw a ballpark of 250 people. Now he sees about 100 more. Some stop by only to look at the memorabilia or to talk about the season, the hair on their heads already trim.
When the Rams left, Martinez took his infant daughter to Goodwill and packed shopping carts with discarded Rams gear. He rooted for them while they played in St. Louis, his shop continuing to pay homage to the team that left his city behind. On Jan. 12, 2016, when the NFL approved the Rams’ return to Los Angeles, Martinez worked a normal day. He saw his last customer at 5:15 p.m., locked the door, turned off the lights and walked to the back of his shop.
“And that’s when the emotion just came over me,” Martinez, now 55, said. “I just started crying.”
The most prominent item on the side wall of Martinez’s shop is a blown-up picture of his younger self sitting in one of his barber’s chairs, smiling wide. It was the night the Rams won Super Bowl XXIV on Jan. 30, 2000. Martinez didn’t think it could get any better than that. Then he watched the parade through downtown St. Louis, and it hit him that the Rams no longer represent his cherished city. It no longer felt the same.
Now he dreams of another Super Bowl while they play in L.A., a growing possibility as the Rams’ 2017 season marched on.
He also believes in karma.
The night the Rams beat the Tennessee Titans in the Super Bowl at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, then-Rams owner Georgia Frontiere held up the Vince Lombardi Trophy and proclaimed she made the right decision by moving the team to St. Louis. Martinez has an image in his head of current Rams owner Stan Kroenke holding up that same trophy and saying that same thing — about moving them back to L.A.
“When that happens, then everything will be back to normal,” Martinez said. “Everything will make sense again.”