Palisadian Sam Lagana Announces First NFL Season

By Sue Pascoe

The golden voice of Sam Lagana was put to good use this football season when he served as the stadium announcer for L.A. Rams games at the Coliseum.

Residents have heard Lagana announce at the annual Fourth of July parade and emcee at almost every major ceremony in the Palisades. But few know that his speaking career started at Palisades High School in 1977.

“Playing basketball, I was injured in a rebounding drill and learned that my back, at that time, was not stable enough to continue sports. My muscular-skeletal development was slow,” says Lagana, who is 6’5”. He had wanted to play basketball and volleyball at Pali, but the medical diagnosis ended his interscholastic dreams. “I was able to stay with the team and practice at times but I was not able to play in games.”

Sam Lagana, the L.A. Rams stadium announcer, in the booth with his spotter Garrett Nakagawa (center) and DJ Malski.
Sam Lagana, the L.A. Rams stadium announcer, in the booth with his spotter Garrett Nakagawa (center) and DJ Malski.

Instead, his coach, Jerry Marvin, asked him to announce Dolphin home games. “I didn’t know what I was doing,” Lagana admits. “He kept me around all three years and I did various tasks, practiced and managed the team—and announced.”

Turns out he was a natural, and he started announcing volleyball, too. Then Principal Jim Mercer asked Lagana to announce track.

Before he graduated in 1980, he also picked up another “announcing” gig at the Bay Theater on Sunset (where Norris Hardware is now located). He was the assistant manager and made show time recordings for the answering machine.

“Sometimes for fun, I would be in the projector booth and would say that the picture was about to begin,” Lagana says, or announce “Fresh popcorn has just been made.”

After graduating from Loyola Marymount, he served as executive director of the Los Angeles Athletic Club, then as the associate director of athletics at Cal State Dominguez Hills and then as the assistant director of athletics at Northridge. He became the associate vice chancellor (athletics) at Pepperdine University in 2002. Lagana also continued sports announcing, and has had television appearances on ABC, NBC, ESPN and Fox Sports for Pro Beach Volleyball, L.A. Avengers Arena Football and Davis Cup tennis.

When he heard that the Rams were relocating to L.A. from St. Louis, Lagana let friends know, “I’d love to be the stadium announcer.”

Eventually he received an email from Chris Slepokura, head of the Rams Broadcasting Network (RBN).

“The message said to read the seven lines they sent me and send the recording in,” Lagana says. “I tried it at my desk and it didn’t sound good. I emailed them and said the earliest I could get to a studio was the next day. I was told, just do it.”

Lagana jokes, “I went in the bathroom, because you do all your best thinking in the bathroom.” He tried recording there, but “I sounded awful, so I went in the hallway between the bathroom and the office, recorded it and sent it in.”

Lagana told the News, “I actually sent them eight lines from my iPhone.”

The eighth (unsolicited) line? “The time has come for every man, woman and child to rise with the Rams.”

He didn’t hear back for awhile and had given up hope, but suddenly was told he had the job.

Lagana knew he had to find a spotter— someone to help put names to numbers down on the field.

“A friend whom I trust, knew a guy who did high school football for local cable TV,” Lagana says. “My feeling was he would be great because he has to learn new people every week.” After speaking to Garrett Nakagawa, Lagana asked him to come aboard. “He was excellent!”

The other person in the booth was DJ Malski, who played the stadium music and coordinated with the cheerleaders.

What was a major obstacle to overcome, once the first preseason game began? Lagana says that it was nearly impossible to see the play clocks behind each end zone from the booth, in a stadium designed 90 years ago.

“I need to finish what needs to be said with 20 seconds on the play clock, but I can’t see them. Additionally, I have to watch the center because if he puts his hand on the ball, we must go silent on the PA.

“We also have a computer monitor that has a feed of the west endzone vision board to help us confirm the identity of a player who may be out of our eyesight.”

(Left to right) Cambria, Cienna, Sam and Eileen Lagana are all Rams fans.
(Left to right) Cambria, Cienna, Sam and Eileen Lagana are all Rams fans.

Lagana also had to factor in the sound delay from when he said something to when it reached the stands. “It’s pretty long and then it bounces off the peristyle and we hear it again,” he says. “I must stay focused and not try to listen or it can get garbled.”

Other factors affecting the PA sound are the number of people in attendance (the Coliseum holds 91,000), wind direction and weather temperature. “Some people told me they could hear me; others said it was too loud. Some said it was clear and some said unclear. All in the same game. The mixing board was nowhere near us.”

In the first game against the Seattle Seahawks, when the Rams scored, Lagana asked “Whose house?” and the fans shouted “Rams House!”

Before the second game, a graphic for that announcement was made for the scoreboard. “But we could not match the graphics to my live voice due to the delays,” Lagana says. “By the time I saw it and said it, the video was on the next page when the audio came out. So, for the third game, they grabbed the audio from the first game and laid it down with the graphic so it came out in cadence correctly.”

Lagana also heard his first “no-no” from the NFL. “We were coming back from a penalty and a time out and I was resetting where everything was,” he recalls. “The opponents were in the red zone (inside the 20-yard line) and it’s third down and three yards to go for a first down and I called out, ‘The Rams are on defense.’”

A representative from the NFL popped her head in the booth moments later and told Lagana not to say “defense” last, as it could incite the crowd while the play clock was running.

A few days later, the league sent a memo to all announcers that outlined the protocol (including the play-clock times) and let them know that fines would be levied on anyone breaking the rule. “That was solidly lodged in my mind,” Lagana says. Following a 4-12 season, the Rams have a new coaching staff for next season, but how about Lagana? “All indications are that I again will ‘Rise with the Rams!’” he says. Lagana and his wife, Eileen, have two daughters: Cambria, a senior at Pepperdine, and Cienna, a senior at St. Monica. His daughters have grown up with football because they attended Arena Football games at Staples Center, when Lagana announced. The lifelong Rams fan is proud to say, “Since my daughters’ first exposure to live NFL this year, they are Rams fans, too.”

A native of Pacific Palisades, Lagana received the chamber of commerce’s Mort Farberow Award in 2007, in recognition of his dedication to community, chamber and children, and received a 2012 Golden Sparkplug Award from the community council.

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