For the second time, St. Louis is losing a football team. I wasn’t around when the St. Louis Cardinals football team packed up and moved west to Arizona, but I can only imagine the heartache that lingered until the Rams came from Los Angeles in 1995. So to have this happen again, after just 20 years in St. Louis, it hurts. The Rams only had a few good years in St. Louis, but those years of the Greatest Show on Turf produced some of the best teams in NFL history, and were responsible for bringing people like me closer to the league.
Personally, it’s hard for me to imagine this stadium in Inglewood, Calif. housing my city’s championship banner. It’s a slap in the face to me. St. Louis isn’t good enough, the city isn’t prosperous enough, it isn’t growing enough for the NFL, apparently. I admittedly know very little about the actual monetary negotiations that took place between St. Louis, the Rams, and the NFL, but speaking as a St. Louisan who was nine years old when his struggling football team suddenly became this dominant force, it seems like we’ve always been good enough. The city didn’t need to prosper or grow like a Los Angeles market. We were loyal, we were proud, and we were champions. What else did a city need to have a team?
Unfortunately, as you age, you begin to realize how much money truly talks, and how money can not only physically remove a team from a city but also take the hearts of its fans with it. Rams owner Stan Kroenke promised St. Louis when he took over the team as its majority owner in 2010 that they weren’t going anywhere. His home state would continue to have two football teams. But money spoke, and money called from California, and now less than six years and a scathing letter denouncing the entire existence of St. Louis later, the Rams are headed to the west coast for the foreseeable future.
My biggest issue with how the relocation situation was handled was how insincere it all seems in hindsight. The NFL held town halls, the city held meetings and other events, all in a perceived effort to talk this out, gather opinions, and make an educated decision. I’m likely too salty at this point still, but I’m convinced that those actions were taken just to say they were taken. All along, the NFL was ready to move the Rams and their billion-dollar owner to a bigger market – they just wanted St. Louis fans to feel like they could have a say. That’s the biggest slap in the face. Kroenke and the NFL teased Rams fans with hope – so much hope that the city actually passed a stadium proposal plan to keep the Rams. Inglewood? Nothing supported by the city. In fact, the Rams won’t even play in their new stadium until it’s completed in 2019. Tell me this plan wasn’t premeditated. Tell me that there was ever a chance that the Rams would stay in St. Louis.
I’ll never forget watching Mike Jones tackle Kevin Dyson at the one-half yardline to win Super Bowl XXXIV. Or Kurt Warner’s miracle heave to Isaac Bruce minutes earlier to give the Rams their 23-16 lead. The 1999 season began with head coach Dick Vermeil choking up at the season-ending injury to quarterback Trent Green, and promising that the team would rally around Kurt Warner. It was a season that shouldn’t have happened by conventional wisdom, but it did. I hope I can speak for many St. Louisans when I say that we as a city clung to that season, and we were damn proud of being home to the greatest football team in the world that year.
Eventually this will pass. Life and football will go on, but for now I’ll always feel resentful toward the NFL whenever I see “L.A.” in front of the Rams. Whether its their intention or not (probably not), the NFL cannot make football forget that the Rams lived and found the ultimate success in St. Louis. They may be able to take the Rams out of St. Louis, slap its citizens and fans in the face, and lie through their teeth with promises of consideration, but St. Louis will always be worthy. And we will cherish the 20 years we had with the Rams.