Lifelong Palisadian Sam Lagana Makes Himself Heard at Rams’ SoFi Stadium
Few people in the Palisades are as recognizable as Sam Lagana. Whenever there is a big event in town you can be sure he will be there with his ever-present smile and his gift for gab. The 1980 Palisades High School graduate has been the stadium voice of the Los Angeles Rams since the NFL team returned to the Southland four years ago. He is also Associate Vice Chancellor at Pepperdine University in Malibu and Chairperson of the annual John R. Wooden Award. Lagana served as Executive Director at the LA Athletic Club and served one term as National Director of Sports at the Josephson Institute of Ethics. He was the Associate Director of Athletics at Cal State Dominguez Hills from 1993-96 and Assistant Director of Athletics at Cal State Northridge from 1989-93. Lagana has served on the boards of the Palisades-Malibu YMCA, Pacific Palisades Chamber of Commerce and the American Legion Squadron 283. He and his wife Eileen have two daughters and live in the Marquez area. Last week, Lagana was interviewed for a “Sports Stories with Denny Lennon” video podcast at Casablanca Restaurant in Venice. The program is now syndicated on Cable-TV and airs Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 9 a.m. on LA36. Visit Lennon’s website at www.sportsstoriesdl.com/ or watch the full video at https://www.youtube.com/SSDL.
DL: How did you get the job as voice of the AVP Tour?
SL: Back in those days I would say that we went with “undenied the worldwide leader in pro beach volleyball.” We tried to take in the whole world because the FIVB hadn’t really gotten so big, but I’d give credit to Kevin Cleary, who’d stepped in as head coach at Loyola Marymount and was really active, so thanks to him as the AVP was being formed in 1984 I was able to get on board and take a 20-year ride with the AVP and the sport overall. It was a good time and being on the sand talking about beach volleyball was fun. Those were great days and the talent we got to see was unbelievable. The characters too… Sinjin Smith tied in with Randy Stoklos as a team, then you also had Mike Dodd, Tim Hovland and Jon Stevenson.
DL: What did you consider the most exciting rivalry?
SL: The most impactful had to be Smith and Stoklos against Dodd and Hovland because that really became the quintessential battle of the North Shore versus the South Bay. You could play that up in California, but as we left the California beaches and started going to the Midwest and the East Coast we had to indoctrinate that spirit of rivalry and I think it came down. The line of demarcation is right near St. Bernard High, that cliff line along Playa del Rey because that’s where Hovland was from. Mike was from Manhattan Beach, then you had Sinjin from Santa Monica and Randy from Pacific Palisades. Fun days!
DL: What was your favorite city on the AVP Tour?
SL: We were on puddle jumpers from city to city to get across the country. I had a couple of favorite stops but they were tied to the way the fans came back, so Clearwater Beach, Florida was one of them, the folks in Boulder, Colorado would always go nuts, Bradford Beach in Milwaukee, Wisconsin—those people went crazy! I would also say Santa Cruz and of course Hermosa and on the East Coast it would have to be Belmar Beach in New Jersey.
DL: Who did you look up to and make friends with growing up in the Palisades?
SL: One of my friends was Russell Jackson who runs this incredible restaurant in New York City. He was an outstanding chef and was on one of America’s most wanted chef competitions. He’s awesome. He was a track guy. Some of the other fun people in school? I had the good fortune to grow up at the same time as [Lakers owner] Jeanie Buss, [San Antonio Spurs assistant coach] Chip Engelland, [Super Bowl winning quarterback] Jay Schroeder and [actor] Forest Whitaker. We had a lot of fun young people who were pretty carefree. The best story was that Jeanie’s dad had not bought the Lakers yet. He was Dr. Buss the engineer and a real estate guy. Then he acquired that franchise and built that legacy. It was a lot of fun to have Jeanie as a good friend. She’s a very, very loyal person and I’m so proud of her to come through and lead this team to a world championship with all of the challenges that were placed in front of her both internally and externally. I’m so happy for her to have brought the Lakers and all of LA a championship. She looks at Magic Johnson as a brother and it was tough what they had to go through a year ago, but Rob Pelinka, Linda Rambis who has been alongside her for years, and that whole squad’s just been amazing.
[Five-time NBA champion and current Golden State Warriors head coach] Steve Kerr came out of our community as well and he’s done pretty well with a few rings.
DL: [Former Rams tight end] Bob Klein and [retired Dodgers play-by-play man] Vin Scully both went to your church. What do you remember about them?
SL: Great family people. Bob’s family would sit in the first pew on the right side and our family would generally sit a few rows back. Bob was always kind to everybody. He and his wife JoAnn had both grown up in our community and gone to our local parochial school [Corpus Christi], Bob went on to St. Monica High in Santa Monica and then to USC and they’ve raised their family in our community too. All of their kids have done great things. Their daughter Kristin married Adam Keefe, who played for the Utah Jazz. Kristin was a superstar for the USA volleyball team in the 1996 Olympic Games and she was sort of the model for women’s volleyball in the corporate sponsorship with Budweiser. They were doing a lot of promotion that included images of Kristin Klein at that time. The Scullys are really fine people also. Mr. Scully was very easy, always said hello to you and you’d see him at church even on game days.
DL: You had the opportunity to be on the PA at the iconic LA Memorial Coliseum. What was it like to call that first game when the Rams came back?
SL: It gave me goose bumps. It had been so long since the Rams had played there. I
remember being that little kid coming through Tunnel 5 with my dad. It was in 1968
against the Bears, I remember that vividly. The Rams beat the Bears that year, finished 10-6, made the playoffs and lost to the Vikings in the wildcard game. This year we’re going to the Super Bowl, we’re going to win the whole thing and it’ll be great. That’s what we want… a hat trick (Lakers, Dodgers and Rams). It was touching to be in the stadium when the Rams returned and the first one was a preseason game against the Dallas Cowboys and to watch the parents with their kids holding hands coming through the tunnels just like I did, it just warmed my heart. I can’t wait until we get the fans into SoFi Stadium [in Inglewood] for the very first time and see that. The teams that put these things together under [Chief Operating Officer] Kevin Demoff and what they do for everyone is so impactful. Everything is going to be perfect when fans can finally get in.
DL: What do you think of the team’s new uniforms and logo?
SL: I love the new look. When you start to think about how we’ve captured and gone back to the Rams’ royal and sunshine yellow and it pops. These uniforms are electric and the lighting in the building will effect how all of this will look. The transition and the colors on the numbers… it’s impressive! During the years the team was in the Midwest that navy blue didn’t look so electric but when we were in London where it gets very dreary the colors really stood out and the jersey was very well received. It’s going to look even more dramatic on television.
DL: When do you get your final charts ready for the game? Is it the day before?
SL: Well, for a Monday night game the final stuff will come in on Sunday. I’ll kind of get everything ready and tooled up on the computer waiting for that, then add that in. I build the board Sunday evening and try to get a good night’s sleep.
DL: What are your first impressions of So-Fi Stadium?
SL: The stadium is amazing. You’re going to find that it is the greatest stadium in sports history. First of all, the video board is incredible. It’s clarity is top notch, so you’ll have the opportunity to not only see the game on the field but the game above it. If a team is running from the south side of the field to the north side and you’re sitting on the west side of the field they’ll be going south to north and it’ll look like that on the video board. When you’re sitting on the east side of the field, the video board will have that so there’s two point production teams that gives you the look both ways. The scoreboard has an inner view and an exterior view. If you’re down low and look up across the field it’s at an angle so you’re glancing up. It’s spectacular! And the finishing touches are great. The lake is beautiful, the parking is good. It just serves the entire Los Angeles community in a unique way so people are going to love it. We really want fans in the building. Whether you’re a Chargers fan or a Rams fan, we want to see you in there and getting after it.
DL: What was it like meeting Michael Jordan after he won the Wooden Award?
SL: We had a visit with him at the California Yacht Club un Marina del Rey many years after he won the Wooden Award and the Bulls were staying at the Ritz. Steve Kerr actually helped us get him to take a picture with the award. Michael was really, really kind and talking with [former North Carolina Coach] Dean Smith about his experiences with Jordan was amazing.
DL: What do you think of the Rams’ chances this season? Can they feed off the success the Lakers and Dodgers have had?
SL: We have a great team. We were in the Super Bowl just two years ago. We didn’t win it, but we were there. Yes, we’re in the toughest division in the NFL but we have every opportunity to shine and thrive and I think we have a really good chance. We had a really good chance last year too. We were the only team with a winning record that didn’t get into the playoffs so that was kind of crazy, but it was a lot of fun.
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