The place where Phenia Mae Wagner stays was once quieter, the noise of the city and the famed basketball arena across the road dulled by trees that wave softly in the breeze over the tops of the brick walls and by a carpet of grass clipped back before it reaches the paved driveway and iron gates.
Across from that driveway now is the Los Angeles Rams’ football stadium, completed in 2020. On a Sunday or Monday or Thursday night, it swells with the roars of crowds and the pulse of speakers. The noise, and the stadium’s glow, leak into the quiet and the darkness across the street. The place where Phenia stays catches whispers about her son, Rams captain Bobby, who plays middle linebacker in that stadium, who is talked about in awed tones by the biggest and baddest in the NFL like he’s a comic book superhero.
Bobby Wagner passes her every time he goes to work, on a Sunday or Monday or Thursday night, because he’s back in Los Angeles. It’s where he grew up, the place he kept quietly returning to each offseason even as he built a decade-long Hall of Fame NFL career in Seattle.
It’s the place where he laid Phenia to rest when he was just a teenager.
Wagner passes the brick walls and iron gates of the Inglewood Park Cemetery every time the Rams have a home game, and that is where Phenia lives.
This is Wagner’s own phrasing, used as he settles into a plastic chair after a sticky summer practice in late-August. He does not blink as he repeats:
Wagner, 32, was born in Los Angeles, and his family lived in Inglewood, Calif., for a while before moving farther east into Ontario and the Inland Empire where he spent his teenage years.
Both his father, Bobby Sr., and Phenia worked a lot — he was a California highway patrolman, and she was in finance — but Wagner also remembers that his mom especially liked to make sure that everyone else got what they needed, that he and his siblings got where they needed to be.