LOS ANGELES — Andrew Whitworth led the way for the community.
For the last several days, football – even for the Rams — became somewhat of an afterthought as tragedy and a natural disaster swept across the greater Los Angeles area.
“Hoping today provided a little bit of joy,” Jared Goff said after the game. “And regularity.”
Last Thursday, the Rams organization awoke to the news of a mass shooting at Borderline Bar and Grill, located just over four miles from the team’s practice facility in Thousand Oaks and seven miles from their business headquarters in Agoura Hills.
A gunman killed 12 people, including Ventura County Sheriff Sgt. Ron Helus, who was on duty and rushed into the bar to save lives.
During a team meeting this week, Whitworth implored teammates to wrap their arms around the community. Then the 13th-year pro set the example.
Whitworth’s game check from Sunday – about $60,000 – will be donated to the Ventura County Community Foundation’s Conejo Valley Victims Fund, a fund to support the families of the victims.
“I texted my wife that day and just said, ‘We’ve been blessed by this game and so many millions of things have been just amazing, that I’m glad to be a part of,’” said Whitworth, who lives in Thousand Oaks with his wife and four children. “The least I can do is say, ‘I can give away the financial reward of playing this game this week to try and just put my arms around, our love and appreciation for what people are going through and what they’re feeling.”
Then, on Thursday, the Rams took to the practice field Thursday afternoon, as smoke plumes began to fill the air.
By early Friday morning, wildfires raged across Ventura County and eventually spread to Los Angeles County, invading communities where many in the Rams’ organization live. Sean McVay was on a text-message chain with assistant coaches, including defensive coordinator Wade Phillips and defensive line coach Bill Johnson, who informed McVay that they were being evacuated from their homes.
This photo was taken last night by one of the coaching staff members on the Rams. This is from the parking lot of the practice facility. pic.twitter.com/XvFXvJrppM
— Sarina (@sarina) November 10, 2018
At the latest count, at least 45 Rams employees, including about 20 players and coaches, are among the 250,000 that have been evacuated across the counties.
Included among the evacuations were Whitworth, Goff, right tackle Rob Havenstein, cornerback Aqib Talib, and general manager Les Snead. But so far, none of the Rams’ homes are expected to be affected, though 170 homes have been destroyed by the fires.
“Want to definitely say we’re thinking about everyone involved in not only the fires,” Goff said. “But the shooting that occurred and how close to home that hits for us.”
As the fires worsened, and nearby Malibu was evacuated, McVay canceled practice Friday so that everyone in the organization could tend to their families.
Rams ownership and management assumed financial responsibility in covering expenses for employees, many of whom are young professionals and interns, who had to evacuate and relocate because of the wildfires.
McVay said the week proved to be a challenge as focus shifted to ensuring the safety of the organization, but that the change in the practice schedule did not affect the team Sunday against the Seahawks.
“They did a great job adjusting and adapting,” McVay said. “We weren’t going to allow that to be an excuse for us not being ready to go.”
Against the Seahawks, Gurley scored in his 13th consecutive game, with Whitworth out front on the 17-yard touchdown run.
Goff passed for 318 yards, with touchdowns to tight ends Gerald Everett and Tyler Higbee. It was Goff’s first career game with multiple touchdown passes to tight ends, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.
And as for Whitworth, McVay said the selflessness he consistently shows — on and off the field — is unrivaled.
“He’s incredible,” McVay said. “I’m better for being around somebody like him.”
The Rams improve to 9-1 and will spend the next week in Colorado Springs, Colorado, before a highly anticipated Week 11 matchup against the 9-1 Kansas City Chiefs in Mexico City on Monday Night Football.