The Melonheads, the Ram fans in the north end-zone seats who don watermelons on their noggins, showed up as usual Sunday.
But hardly anybody else did.
Only 32,969 fans attended the Rams' 14-12 victory over the Arizona Cardinals at Anaheim Stadium, the smallest crowd of any regular-season, non-strike game since the team moved here from the Los Angeles Coliseum in 1980.
With the Rams coming off four consecutive losing seasons and the team entertaining relocation offers from Baltimore, St. Louis and Hartford, Conn., team officials have braced for sinking attendance this season. The team distributed 35,912 tickets for the Arizona game, but 2,943 were no-shows.
Sunday's crowd was only 362 shy of tying what is believed to be the smallest NFL crowd for a season opener (32,607 for the New England-Miami game at Harvard Stadium in 1970).
Sunday's crowd broke the Rams' previous season low of 34,155 against Cleveland last year. The team's smallest crowd was 29,295 at the Los Angeles Coliseum in 1963.
"The fans were great today," defensive end Fred Stokes said. "Hopefully, we gave them something to cheer about."
Hot stuff: When they weren't rushing Arizona quarterback Steve Beuerlein, the Ram defense flocked to the water coolers like fraternity boys at a keg party. Several Ram defenders complained of cramps after playing more than 38 minutes on a hot, humid day.
Ram trainer Jim Anderson said three players were given liquids intravenously and players were cooled down with ice and wet towels at halftime.
Temperature at kickoff was 87 degrees with 47% humidity, and the defense played well despite being on the field for 72 plays. They forced three key turnovers, including an interception by strong safety Marquez Pope early in the third quarter.
"It was great," Pope said of the interception. "It gave us a chance to get off the field for a while."
Tough talk: Atlanta Falcon wide receiver Andre Rison, who caught 14 passes for 193 yards and two touchdowns in a 31-28 loss to the Detroit Lions Sunday, was already feeling good about next Sunday's game against the Rams in the Georgia Dome. In a post-game interview Sunday, Rison, who caught two touchdown passes against the Rams at the Georgia Dome last season, "guaranteed" a victory over the Rams.
Play on words: Buddy Ryan wasted no time, and few words, in showing his disgust with officials and the increase of pass interference penalties.
His example was Anderson's 44-yard reception Sunday. Anderson split two defensive backs on the play, then slowed to make the catch.
"We're there to make the play, but the refs got us so damn scared, we won't even try to make a play on the ball," Ryan said. "There are two guys down there. Either one can make the play. But we're afraid to make the play because of the damn pass interference rule they got now. That's no excuse. We should have made the play."
And so on.
The Rams' victory was their first in a season-opener since 1989, when they beat the Falcons, 31-21, in Atlanta. The Falcons' quarterback that year? Chris Miller, the current Rams' quarterback. . . . Coach Chuck Knox improved his record to 2-6 against the Cardinals. . . . Cornerback Steve Israel's nine tackles were a career high.
Times staff writer Chris Foster contributed to this story.