St. Louis Should Be Rams’ Permanent Home, Plain and Simple

Upon Rams owner Stan Kroenke purchasing a plot of land in Inglewood, Calif., from his family that in theory could be used as an NFL stadium site, a gentleman by the name of Arash Markazi wrote a nice piece at ESPNLA.com about the idea of the Rams returning to the City of Angels. I’m sure for some people out there, the idea does sound great. And, much like we do with the football Cardinals, people like to reminisce about great childhood memories spent with the sports franchise of their youth.

Markazi writes,“While many in St. Louis might cringe at the thought, the truth is the Rams belong in Southern California. It was their home for nearly 50 years, and if things play out right, they may finally be coming back to the City of Angels next year after taking a 20-year hiatus in the Gateway City.”

I wonder what makes anyone think the Rams “belong” is Los Angeles? The fact is, the Rams were born in Cleveland and spent their first eight seasons there. Like the Colts in Baltimore, the Browns in Cleveland (who became the Ravens), the Oilers in Houston (who became the Titans) or the Cardinals in St. Louis, the Rams are a franchise owned not by a city, but by an owner. If we’re going to talk about a franchise belonging to a community, then by that logic the Lakers belong in Minneapolis, the Dodgers belong in Brooklyn, and the Clippers belong in Buffalo. In fact, if we are to think teams belong in communities simply because they spent time there, Los Angeles should have the Angels, the Kings and the Ducks – the only three franchises there now that started there. The Lakers, Clippers and Dodgers all came from communities that had called someplace else home before relocating.  The only franchise in American sports that belongs to its community is the Green Bay Packers, where the city owns the team. And that type of ownership isn’t allowed anymore; the Packers’ ownership setup was grandfathered into the NFL bylaws. Unfortunately, teams belong where their owner wants them.  And public and fan support of said franchises will keep them in towns.

Markazi goes on to write, “I’m normally against any and all relocation, but this isn’t exactly like the San Diego Chargers, Minnesota Vikings or any other NFL team that has been rumored to be looking at a move to Los Angeles over the years. This is the Rams. And when I think of the Rams, I think of Eric Dickerson, Jack Youngblood, Jackie Slater, Deacon Jones, Merlin Olsen, Norm Van Brocklin, Bob Waterfield, Elroy ‘Crazy Legs’ Hirsch, Les Richter and Tom Fears.”

Let’s start with Dickerson, who recently said to TMZ, “First of all, L.A. don’t deserve a team. They ain’t gonna support it.” And he explained why, saying, “L.A. is like a bad kid. His ball is laying over there, he don’t wanna play with the ball. But when somebody else picks the ball up, then he wants the ball.” The Hall of Famer, who lives in Southern California, went on to say, “When the Lakers are winning, it’s crowded. But when the Lakers are losing, you could roll a stick of dynamite in there and blow up nothing but the floor.” So that’s what he thinks of L.A. fans.

There’s no doubt that the Rams had great players in L.A., but when people think of the St. Louis Rams, they think of Super Bowl champions Marshall Faulk, Kurt Warner, Isaac Bruce, Torry Holt, Orlando Pace, Mike Jones, Kevin Carter and Grant Wistrom. The L.A. Rams that the author mentioned are all great memories, not unlike Houston fans  reminiscing about Earl Campbell and Dan Pastorini; Baltimore fans who remember Johnny Unitas, Jim Parker and Lenny Moore; or those of us here in St. Louis who long for the days of Jim Hart, Terry Metcalf and Dan Dierdorf with the Big Red.

But that’s people like me. I’m 51. Any football fans who’s 25 years old or younger in our society has two memories of the Rams: that they provided the Greatest Show on Turf in the early 2000s, and that they’ve been terrible since 2003. The audience the NFL is trying to grab right now has no idea that the Rams played in Los Angeles, except when they see old clips of Dickerson or Youngblood. To think that the Rams would be any more or less of a draw in Los Angeles than any other franchise, existing or expansion, is ridiculous.

Another point Markazi makes is that “as much as St. Louis has tried to accept and adopt the Rams’ history prior to 1995, when they left Los Angeles, it’s like the Oklahoma City Thunder trying to embrace the Seattle Supersonics’ past as their own. It’s one of the biggest complaints I’ve heard from former Los Angeles Rams players over the years – besides, of course, the fact that their old team is no longer where it should be.” Markazi quotes Youngblood as saying, “We are their legacy, but they forgot us. They don’t have anything to do with us, really. I find that unfortunate because you look at other franchises, even those that have moved, and they use their alumni in their marketing and in their organization. They use their Hall of Famers as an example for the players who are there today. They use their alumni, but the Rams have cut us out of the picture.  I’ve been invited back twice since they moved to St. Louis, and once I invited myself back.”

Two points there, the first being that the Thunder were the SuperSonics. They changed their name, as the Rams and every franchise that moved should have when they did. And it’s not the fault of St. Louis people, or Los Angeles players, that the franchise moved. Fact is, most St. Louis fans don’t love the fact that the Rams try to honor the L.A. Rams history. This is a St. Louis franchise. Its history started in 1995. Most fans couldn’t care less if the L.A. Rams in the ring of honor are there or not. That’s not out of disrespect. It’s that those guys were rivals that beat the Cardinals in the 1975 playoffs. We don’t need them. We have our own history. For those old enough to remember, we recall Youngblood beating our team with an interception return in the playoffs.

Secondly, the L.A. players may complain (and, by the way, Youngblood seems to be honored on the sideline every year during a Rams home game), but the fact of the matter is that when we look up in the rafters of the Edward Jones Dome, we see that their Super Bowl championship was won in St. Louis, that their NFC Championship of 2001 was won in St. Louis, and that the retired numbers 28 of Marshall Faulk and the 80 of Isaac Bruce are for players who played in St. Louis. If the dying-off players from the L.A. Rams are upset, wouldn’t the same apply for the younger members of the St. Louis Rams if the team were to relocate? With all due respect, what difference does it make now to Jones, Olsen, Van Brocklin, Waterfield, Hirsch, Richter and Fears where the Rams play? If we’re going to be upset about how players feel, shouldn’t we be more concerned about players who are actually alive and have feelings?

Another note about Markazi’s piece. He writes, “One of the biggest problems with the NFL being gone from Los Angeles for the past two decades is the generational gap it has left with the city’s sports fans. Anyone born after 1988 or so has no recollection of an NFL team in L.A.

“It is a generational gap that can’t be properly repaired with an expansion team or an established team with no ties to Los Angeles being relocated here.  Fortunately, there are local history lessons to be shared. There are fathers, grandfathers and great-grandfathers who can tell younger generations what it was like going to Los Angeles Rams games. The seeds for a loyal Rams fan base in Los Angeles were planted 70 years ago.”

Having lived in a town that has had two franchises, and having kids who only know the St. Louis Rams, I can assure Mr. Markazi that whatever franchise Los Angeles gets, it won’t be a problem getting kids to connect. If the team succeeds, it won’t matter one iota where the team came from or if it even existed before. Kids will gravitate to the here and now. They want their own team, and it doesn’t matter where it came from. If St. Louis had gotten the Cardinals back, or the Rams came to St. Louis, young people were going to become fans of their team – regardless of what team their grandpa liked.

Markazi writes, “While in Los Angeles, the Rams broke the color barrier in the NFL before the 1946 season – a year before it happened in Major League Baseball – when they signed running backs Kenny Washington and Woody Strode, who were Jackie Robinson’s teammates at UCLA.” Oh, like while in Brooklyn, the Dodgers broke the MLB color barrier when they signed Robinson? Are we advocating a Dodger return to that bustling borough of New York now?

As Markazi summarizes, “The blame for most team relocations lies with the owner and the facility it plays in, not with the city and the fans who supported them. That was certainly the case in Los Angeles.” Perhaps Markazi isn’t old enough to remember, but Los Angeles was given multiple opportunities to fix its stadium situation before the Rams and Raiders left, but wouldn’t. They were given an expansion franchise in March of 1999, but didn’t show the desire to build a facility then, either, and that franchise was instead awarded to Houston and became the Texans. As far as the fans, as has been noted here and elsewhere, the Rams didn’t draw when they were winning in the 80s, and even when they were winning, some of the few fans brought a banner with them every week that read “Georgia (Frontiere, the late Rams owner), sell the team.”

I do agree that the blame for most franchise relocations aren’t the fault of fans, but in this case the reasons the Rams left L.A. in the first place were that the city didn’t show any desire to build a facility, and fans didn’t show up to watch a winning team. The Rams sold out every single game they played in St. Louis from 1995 until an 0-8 start in 2007. The fan base continues to show up despite recently witnessing the worst five-year stretch in the history of the NFL, a stretch in which the team won seven home games in five years.

The Rams belong in St. Louis, where Kroenke’s main business, THF Realty, is headquartered. They belong in the state where Kroenke grew up and started his first business, the Columbia-based Kroenke Group. They belong in St. Louis, where they’ve had their greatest success and forged the best part of their history. They belong in St. Louis, where they drew more fans for the final game of a 2-14 season that concluded that 15-65 run (55,990) than the Rams drew for their home finale, their 10th win in the playoff season of 1989 in Los Angeles (53,063). Ultimately, if we’re going to say that a franchise belongs in place because of history, fan loyalty, concern about alumni and kids having emotional ties to the franchise, that place for the Rams is clearly St. Louis.