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Star-studded LA Rams Host Surging 49ers In NFC Title Game

INGLEWOOD, Calif. (CBSLA/AP) — With the biggest game of the season less than 48-hours away, Rams fans and players alike are full tilt into preparations for the big game.

"They're the best team in L.A., right?" said Zeb Jelinek, one of many Rams fans who showed up to the Thousand Oaks shopping center on Friday for Rams gear and signed memorabilia. "How are they going to beat the 49ers? Grit and determination" he continued, "They are going to get there!"

Fans were joined by several Rams cheerleaders, and their mascot Rampage at the event which was open for anyone until 6 p.m.

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Jamie Cabral, a lifelong fan, pruned early by her father, who even adopted a ram as a family pet when she was a child, plans to tailgate and said she won't miss the game if the Rams make it to the Super Bowl. Though the ram has since passed away, his memory lives on - in very unique form, with his horns attached to a Rams helmet, which several fans rubbed for good luck on Friday.

On the other end of the Golden State, San Francisco 49er fans plan to flood the seats at SoFi Stadium once again, purchasing almost 70% of seats in the arena, in what will be a repeat of Week 16's eventful matchup between the two NFC West Rivals.

PJ Sports Pub, a 49ers bar located just hundreds of yards down the road, is owned by San Francisco local Kevin Gullick. He could hear the Rams fans chanting from down the road. That didn't deter him as they head into the NFC Championship, as he told CBS reporters, "Diehard Niners fan here! We are going to kick their butts! Go Niners, beat them six in a row time for number seven!"

With a little less than two days left until game time, StubHub has already announced that the game is trending towards being their best-selling playoff game (excluding the Super Bowl) in the site's history.

The Rams have lost their last six matchups with Head Coach Sean McVay at the helm, and the players are just as ready as fans are to snap that streak on Sunday. Should they finally defeat their instate foe, they'll host the Super Bowl in their own stadium, with an opportunity to become the second-straight team to win a Super Bowl in front of their hometown fans. But getting through the 49ers is the first thing in line for the Rams roster.

Aaron Donald has been around long enough to know he might not get this chance again. The same goes for everybody in the Los Angeles Rams' constellation of stars around him.

Late in his eighth NFL season as the best defensive lineman of his generation, Donald's career is rich with individual honors, but lacking ultimate team success. The Rams (14-5) made several bold moves this season to build a team around Donald more capable of winning it all, and now they're one step away from playing in a Super Bowl in their home stadium when they host the San Francisco 49ers (12-7) in the NFC championship game on Sunday.

"I feel like I've accomplished a lot in a short amount of time in this league," said Donald, the seven-time All-Pro and three-time Defensive Player of the Year. "The only thing I'm lacking now is being a world champion. To get to that point, we've got to win this week."

After crying on the sideline last January when the Rams' season slipped away in Green Bay, Donald is desperate to take that penultimate step toward his last career goal. So are Matthew Stafford, Jalen Ramsey, Andrew Whitworth, Odell Beckham Jr., Cooper Kupp and several other Rams whose otherwise impressive careers don't have that certain championship ring.

"So many teammates on my team, this is really all they need," said linebacker Von Miller, the Super Bowl 50 MVP with Denver and midseason Rams acquisition. "Aaron Donald, this is all he needs, and he has the whole shebang, you know? Andrew Whitworth and Eric Weddle and all of these guys, I want to do it for them."

These rivals match up superbly, with both offenses relying heavily on an All-Pro receiver (Kupp and Deebo Samuel) and both defenses built around elite, dynamic pass rushers.

But if the Rams (14-5) don't overcome the 49ers' maddening mastery over them, all their big moves will end in checkmate.

San Francisco has won six consecutive meetings with Los Angeles, and not much in their first two meetings this season suggested Rams coach Sean McVay is close to clearing the monumental mental block separating him from his good friend, Kyle Shanahan.

The 49ers feel a related urgency heading back to SoFi Stadium, where they roared back from an early 17-point deficit and surged to yet another impressive victory over their California archrivals just three weeks ago — clinching a playoff berth, no less.

In fact, San Francisco might owe its entire season to its domination of the Rams: The Niners were 3-5 and going nowhere when they routed Los Angeles in mid-November, kicking off their current 9-2 surge.

If the Rams fall again Sunday, the disappointment will be crushing, but Donald thinks they're ready to shoulder the weight.

"This is a different type of football here that's going on this week," he said. "This week, my mindset is there's no way we're going to lose this game. We have to play four quarters. We have to find a way to finish, and I know we're going to do that."

(© Copyright 2022 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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