To St. Louis and Back

Sports are a funny thing. A team can win, lose, persevere, build a history, endear itself to a fanbase, and become loved by thousands, or even millions.

But then, in an instant, all of that can go away. The whim of one man, just one man, can move that team to where ever that man thinks business will be best (with the blessing and approval of the appropriate league, granted), in spite of any legacy or any number of fans. By all accounts, this is what’s likely about to happen to the St. Louis Rams, and I’m a bit displeased with the entire situation.

Let’s get one thing straight. I’m primarily a long-suffering Philadelphia Eagles fan. However, the Rams became my hometown, default second-favorite upon their move to St. Louis in 1995. I was 11 years old and thrilled by the idea of a football team in St. Louis. For one, the Rams might be able to convert a number of local, bandwagon-jumping Dallas Cowboys fans, the kind who only rooted for the Cowboys because they were the best team in the league. Maybe I could even share common ground with them now by rooting for the new hometown boys. This didn’t happen. Not only that, the Cowboys won the Super Bowl at the end of that very season, so I guess those Dallas fans made the right choice in the end.

Secondly, a football team in St. Louis greatly increased the possibility of being able to go to a live NFL game. Across the state, the Chiefs were sold out for the next infinity seasons. The Colts and Bears were long drives, and Dallas…well, out of the question. The Edward Jones Dome has never been the greatest venue, what with its cavernous, characterless layout and…well, also cavernous, echoing acoustics, but at least it was a place where a team could play professional football in St. Louis.

On the other hand, since I was only 11, it didn’t occur to me that St. Louis’ gain was the city of Los Angeles’ loss. A struggling team making questionable personnel decisions left a beleaguered, alienated fan base who didn’t want to lose their team, but were victims of circumstance and what Rams owner Georgia Frontiere thought was a good business move.

But all was well on my end. St. Louis was getting a team. That’s what mattered.

It’s been an adventure. The Rams won a Super Bowl, went to another one, made numerous playoff appearances, had a 2-win season (ouch), a 1-win season (double ouch), and everything in between. I’ve suffered through the Lawrence Phillips debacle, trying to replace Kurt Warner indefinitely, the head-coaching carousel, and trying to get over an insurmountable 7-win hump for years and years. While the Rams can be kinda vanilla, and while Rams fans are not considered the most iconic or steadfast—especially when compared to the lunatic fanbases of brethren St. Louis franchises, the Cardinals or Blues—the ones who are loyal have stuck with the team through an awful lot. The last three or four years have been more intriguing to me as a Rams fan than an Eagles fan, and I have rooted hard for them to finally get that extra couple of wins they need to escape mediocrity, only to watch them accumulate stupid losses against bad teams and miss the postseason once again. It’s been painful, at times, but I can’t say it hasn’t been fun. And when they finally do make it back to the playoffs, all the pain will be worth it.

Except they’ll be in Los Angeles by then, and what good will that do me?

I try not to judge, and I know there are many more cogs in this machine than there appear to be on the surface, but I’m not thrilled with Rams owner Stan Kroenke or the NFL. The NFL understandably wants the Rams to draw a 100% attendance rate, rather than the 86% attendance rate they’re getting in St. Louis. Kroenke’s trying to make what he feels is the best business move, to cement his legacy and add to his 7.7 billion dollar net worth. You know, since he doesn’t have enough going for him as it is. He’s also demonstrated rather vitriolic behavior towards the city of St. Louis, deeming any football operation in the city as harmful to the league and on the road to financial ruin. Thanks, Stan. Way to talk up one of your home state markets. To be fair, I’m also not a fan of the city’s proposal for keeping a football team in the market, as it requires the use of significant taxpayer money to build a new stadium. I’d like to think some sort of compromise could be reached that would keep the Rams in town, but the Rams, the NFL, and the city of St. Louis are not looking for my input.

Unfortunately, Kroenke (and the NFL, and Los Angeles, and everybody else against me) and I appear to be at an impasse. He wants the team to move. I don’t. Also not lost on me is the irony of the situation. What happened to Los Angeles Rams fans now may happen to St. Louis Rams fans. Will the circle be completed? I hope not. But it probably will. This is the problem when your allegiance is only based on a team’s location. Will I still like the Rams if they move back to Los Angeles? Will I forget them if a different team takes their place in St. Louis?

Being a sports fan shouldn’t come with all this baggage.