I can’t remember the year, or the opponent, or even who won the game. But I remember it was a Rams game at the Los Angeles Coliseum, a very large building in this faraway land called “downtown” (10 miles away).
I remember the crowds. I remember walking through a gate of an old wire fence, past the lines of an old concession stand, through a concrete tunnel that seemed to stretch forever (10 miles?) until finally daylight peeked out at the other end. I remember stepping out from the tunnel and immediately being overwhelmed by the sounds, looking down to see a massive field in a massive stadium filled by more people than I had ever seen in my life. Then I was told to turn and walk up 12,000 steps to our seats.
“We usually sat pretty high up,” my father said by phone.
“I didn’t care,” I said.
“I know,” he said.
I understand what the football fans of St. Louis are feeling today. I grew up believing a city’s sports franchises should have permanence, like a school or a post office or a sidewalk. Silly me. But the Dodgers left Brooklyn, the Colts left Baltimore, the Browns left Cleveland, the Lakers left Minneapolis. Vagabond ownership allowed Atlanta to gain a basketball team (the Hawks from St. Louis) and a baseball team (the Braves from Milwaukee), but lose two hockey teams to Canadian outposts.
Fans matter to corporate weasel owners only until they stop buying tickets to watch their inferior product in their perfectly fine stadium. Then the corporate weasel owner whines that he needs stadium “upgrades” to remain competitive, and certainly the last thing he’s going to do is build the stadium himself, even though it’s his business and his profit margin, not ours. So the corporate weasel owner dumps on local officials and fans for not supporting his crappy team and before you know it, vultures from other area codes wearing chamber of commerce buttons swoop in with bags of cash and stadium promises to romance the same guy you’ve grown to despise.
Then the team moves. To Indianapolis. To Baltimore. To Phoenix. To Oklahoma City. To godforsaken Winnipeg.
St. Louis: I understand your pain. But you get no sympathy here.
“You reap what you sow,” said former San Francisco All-Pro lineman Randy Cross, who also grew up in L.A. as a Rams fan and played his college career for UCLA in the Coliseum. “They stole a team from L.A. L.A. stole it back. Like Michael Corleone said, ‘It’s not personal, it’s business.’”
So the NFL returns to Los Angeles. That took only 20 years.
The amusing irony is while the Rams, while waiting for their new Valhalla to be built in nearby Inglewood, will play in the Coliseum for three years. It’s the same old, creaky venue that former owner Carroll Rosenbloom was fed up with, prompting him to move the team to the Angels’ stadium 40 miles away in Orange County.
St. Louis fans feel duped. They want to have a public flogging of Rams owner Stan Kroenke. Welcome to the real world, suckers.
Kroenke is a Missouri native. He married into the Walmart fortune. He built a real estate empire based in Columbia. He bought into the Rams. “He’ll NEVER leave,” fans thought.
Rams fans in L.A. loved their team, too, at least until Rosenbloom’s wife, Georgia, got hold of it. Georgia, the former ballroom singer and a six-time bride, assumed control of the Rams when Rosenbloom (husband No. 5) drowned while swimming off the coast near Miami. (A medical examiner put to rest conspiracy theories that Rosenbloom was murdered when he determined Rosenbloom had a coronary.)
Georgia inherited 70 percent of the team, a surprise given that Steve Rosenbloom, Carroll’s son, had been groomed to take over the franchise. So what did Georgia do before Carroll’s body was cold? She fired Steve, her stepson.
Mrs. Rosenbloom and her front-office henchman, John Shaw, ran down the franchise. The Rams were notoriously cheap and annually led the NFL in contract holdouts, infuriating players, coaches and fans. Predictably, a team that went to the playoffs four consecutive years and six of seven then had five consecutive losing seasons.
(At some point, Georgia married husband No. 6, Dominic Frontiere, who would go on to have a profitable business scalping up to 16,000 Super Bowl tickets, which he obtained through his wife. He went to federal prison, tragically ending their love story.)
In 1995, Georgia moved the team from the No. 2 market to the 21st market because St. Louis gave her its soul and increased guaranteed wealth.
In 1999, the St. Louis Rams won the Super Bowl. I wanted to vomit.
I don’t know if the Rams will win a Super Bowl in Los Angeles. That hasn’t happened since Warren Beatty played quarterback in “Heaven Can Wait.” But they will get a new stadium, and nobody is going to weep for St. Louis on the way to the ATM.
“There has to be an L.A. team,” Cross said. “They should have never left that market. But it’s still L.A. If you don’t win there, you won’t draw flies.”
Stay by the phone, St. Louis.
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