St. Louis And The NFL: Oh, No…Not Again?

Tim McKernan, Wed, 21 May 2008 05:00:00 GMT

Michael Silver’s story on Yahoo! Sports yesterday sent shockwaves through area football fans, and understandably so. Silver reports:

“though it hasn’t been publicized in the wake of longtime owner georgia frontiere’s death earlier this year, the st. louis rams are on the market, according to several nfl sources. the possible sale of the franchise could have major ramifications, with a potential return of the team to southern california hanging over any transaction.”

Chip Rosenbloom, who just 4 weeks earlier stood at Rams Park and said he and his sister are committed to St. Louis, issued a statement that didn’t exactly make many Rams’ fans feel any better:

“It has only been four months since my mom passed away. Her passing immediately caused speculation that we were selling the team. When a team is passed from one generation to another it becomes to some a calling card that the team must be for sale. So, to reply to this article: Nothing has changed since my momís passing. We’ve been approached by several people. We plan on using the season to show that the performance on the field will be exciting and to honor my mom. And while we deal with her estate, I can assure you we have every intention of keeping the Rams in St. Louis and will have no further comment on this article.”

Notice that Rosenbloom didn’t deny the story. He just said that he’s committed to keeping the Rams in St. Louis, but he didn’t say that he would. And, he surely didn’t say that he plans on remaining owner of the Rams for the long haul. He just said that he wants the Rams to honor his mother’s memory this season…and that’s about it.

Michael Silver, the author of the Yahoo! Sports story, joined Bernie Miklasz and Randy Karraker on Team 1380’s The Roll Home yesterday afternoon, and he mocked Rosenbloom’s statement and what he saw as an attempt to distract the St. Louis area fan base by bringing up the memory of his mother…as opposed to the “big money business” and “900 million dollars” that this story is really about.

Silver didn’t say he thought the move was imminent by any means, as he indicated he thought markets like Jacksonville were more likely to have their team raided, but, he reiterated his confidence that the new owners of the Rams are most definitely at the very least seeing what kind of interest there is in St. Louis’ pro football team.

And, so now many others are fearing exactly what I was fearing back on September 18, 2007 when I wrote in this column:

“I realize the Rams have only played 2 games, but I don’t think it’s overreacting to say that this is a team in big trouble.

That, of course, is not a ground-breaking opinion.

Here’s what I think may rattle some cages: the Rams in St. Louis are in trouble.

This organization—not just the team—has some real issues here, and, much like a politician, I’m going to present a problem…and have no solution. But, here’s what I know:

-The Dome is dead. Brutal. It is one of the worst atmospheres in the NFL. It’s so bad that people would rather stay at home or go to a bar and watch games as opposed to taking free tickets. As I said above, I don’t know what can be done about it, because the building has only been open for 12 years, but the Edward Jones Dome is the Tropicana Field of the NFL: Both were built without teams ready to occupy them…and now both are struggling to get fans to occupy them.

-Not many people in the city care about them right now…and even 9 days ago, when there were some high expectations for the team, there wasn’t much buzz. As Dan Caesar reported in the Post-Dispatch Saturday, the Rams’ season opener drew their lowest rating since 1999. The drop-off was 22 percent from the last year. I know most people don’t pay much attention to TV ratings, but that’s indicative of the area’s lukewarm relationship with the football team.

This is a serious situation. I really do feel that way.

It may not be right, but the lack of personality from the coach and the quarterback, combined with many in the city not being fans of the personality of the star running back is a recipe for trouble. Then, when you mix in the fact that this team has absolutely no identity offensively…and a dangerous schedule ahead of them…it makes the 2007 season look like a danger zone for football in St. Louis.

I believe it was the great Bonnie Raitt who said, “I can’t make you love me if you don’t.”

St. Louis doesn’t love this team. And, there’s nothing that can be done to change that in time for it to save 2007. I really believe that. I’m not Monday Morning…or Tuesday Morning…Hyperbole Guy. I’m looking at this big picture.

Look at the last couple of years.

Look at the empty seats.

Look at the TV ratings.

This is a problem.

But, I hope this one year of potentially “very bad things” doesn’t lead to another break-up with an NFL franchise somewhere down the road.”

I am quite certain that many people will take the above as textbook sports talk radio/media guy “told you so,” which I loathe…although I can’t blame you for reading it that way if you, in fact, read it that way.

but, the real reason i write this is because the reasons stated above are the exact reasons why the rams in st. louis are vulnerable…and why this team may not be long for st. louis. now, i would argue…and realize that i have no way of getting a confirmation…that one of the reasons chip rosenbloom and his sister may be looking around to sell the rams is because of the insane taxes they may have to pay on their mother’s estate. doug vaughn, my co-host on team 1380’s itd morning after and who worked in tv in miami, was telling me in a commercial break a couple of days ago that estate taxes were the main reasons joe robbie’s kids had to sell the miami dolphins to wayne huizenga in 1990 shortly after their father’s death.

But, Huizenga has kept the Dolphins in Miami.

I’m not so sure a new owner would do the same with the Rams…for the reasons noted above…and also for the following reason noted below:

In the most recent edition of The St. Louis Business Journal, these even scarier words were written:

Civic leaders lured the Los Angeles Rams to St. Louis in 1995 with a sweetheart deal and the promise their stadium would remain among the National Football League’s elite.

But there will be no money available for the hundreds of millions of dollars in upgrades expected to be necessary to meet that “first-tier” standard at the next measuring date in 2015, and no plan is in place to address the projected shortfall.

“I can only say right now we will not have that pot of money at the 20-year mark that we had at the 10-year mark,” said Brian McMurtry, executive director of the St. Louis Regional Convention and Sports Complex Authority (RCSCA), which owns the Dome. “Somewhere around that time, the CVC will have to go back to the sponsors (the city, county and state) for more money.”

Going back to the well will be a tough task considering the funding and political participation required.

“The notion of either spending $100 million or building a new stadium for an activity that is only used eight to 10 times a year for 60,000 people at a time stretches my public imagination,” said Mike Jones, executive assistant to St. Louis County Executive Charlie Dooley.

Folks, we’ve got a bad building already…and this article and these quotes indicate we don’t have the money to improve it, and if that shithole doesn’t go from Shea Stadium to Camden Yards in 6 years, the Rams have an out in their lease…and something tells me we may have to start debating whether to cheer for the Chiefs or the Bears again.

Nationally, they’ll say, “St. Louis isn’t a football town. They’ve lost two franchises. They’re done with the NFL.”

But, I don’t think that’s a fair reflection on the football fans of St. Louis.

I firmly believe—passionately as a matter of fact—that this area has one hell of a base of football fans. But, we’ve had the perfect storm when it comes to a formula to lead to perceived disinterest. I shall introduce my theory:

The Big Red was a mess of a franchise. Hence, people didn’t support them in giant numbers. The city got labeled a baseball town, because in the Big Red’s darkest days, the baseball Cardinals were having some of their best (1985 and 1987). The franchise leaves the city…forever a black mark on St. Louis football.

Once the Rams arrive, the city flocks to support the team, some of it out of the novelty, and some of it out of just the love of having a pro team back in town. And, just when the honeymoon period was coming to a close and apathy was about to creep in…much like with what baseball fans in Atlanta had going on in 1991…we were given the black tar heroin of NFL offenses with the 1999 Rams.


Once you’ve had that shit, you’re always going to be chasing that high…and
unfortunately, odds are you’ll never get it again…and after 2003, we never did. But, by then, we were spoiled rotten by ’99, ’00, ’01, and ’03. And, therefore, that crap “football” facility that we had to build in order to get a team here now sounds just like it looks: a cavernous warehouse. Sure, part of the reason for the Sunday St. Louis Silence of The Rams at The Dome is because of the knitting class going on in the lower bowl with Blanche and Esther, but that’s not the only reason.

The same football fans that saw a terrible franchise up and leave them…and had a questionable franchise come and replace them…got 4 seasons of high-flying, video game football…and then had it yanked away only to be replaced by, with all due respect to the individuals, a boring head coach (both on and off the field) and a non-descript, personalityless (yeah, I’m making up words) franchise in a mid-market city that isn’t exactly a featured destination on Travelocity.

And you know what?

That ain’t the fault of the football fans of St. Louis, Jack.

But, whether it’s our fault or not…that’s the way it is.

To paraphrase and make a slight change to one of the go-to lines of every hack sportscaster ad-libbing over Astros highlights when something’s going wrong: “St. Louis, we’ve got a problem.”

And, I don’t have the solution.

I do have the dream scenario.

A huge, local company—perhaps one that prominently features well-hung horses—comes forward, buys the Rams, builds a new OUTDOOR stadium, enacts an “old bat” ban on the lower bowl of said stadium, employs ushers who weren’t picked on in high school and who don’t have anything against people under the age of 40, and we will display to the rest of the football world just how passionate St. Louis area football fans really are.

That would be the move.

Unfortunately, I’m not so sure that’s going to be “the move” we’re in for.

 

If you have any questions, comments, or something for The Friday Mail Bag, you can now leave them below in the new insideSTL.com blog comments section, or you can email me at tmckernan@insidestl.com.

SHARE