Farewell St Louis Rams: from champions to the NFL's most reliable losers
Twenty-one years after getting the Rams from Los Angeles, St Louis has lost its team again. Like the Greatest Show On Turf, the Rams’ stay in St Louis was quick and ultimately disappointing.
The NFL owners voted 30-2 on Tuesday night to allow the Rams and the San Diego Chargers to move to Los Angeles. Yes, Los Angeles, a city decidedly apathetic about NFL football, is being given two teams, because one team to ignore just isn’t enough. The Chargers have a one-year option to decide to stay in San Diego or head north, but the Rams are officially gone from St Louis. Team owner Stan Kroenke, a Missouri native who went to the University of Missouri, got his wish to move the Rams out of his home state. He probably shouldn’t attend any high school reunions for a while, lest he get shivved while walking to the bar.
Kroenke in every way played the role of evil, greedy, corporate villain in getting his Rams out of St Louis and took every opportunity to dump all over his city in recent months. St Louis offered a $1.1bn open-air stadium along the Mississippi river, but Kroenke never seriously considered it and NFL commissioner Roger Goodell balked at the proposal’s requirement of $200m from the NFL because it was double what league policy allows. What a wonderfully convenient policy for Goodell’s ever benevolent NFL.
“We understand the emotions involved of our fans,” said Kroenke. “We worked long and hard at the various alternatives.” Yeah, that’s not really true. But, hey – it probably was fun to say if you’re the villain-type!
In the Rams’ 29-page application to move to Los Angeles that was released a week ago, Kroenke cited the stagnant St Louis economy and an indifferent fan base as his biggest reasons for wanting to move. The match-up between the economies of St Louis and Los Angeles isn’t a fair fight. Los Angeles is the No2 market in the country. But ripping St Louis fans, the people of his own hometown, was a cheap shot. If Kroenke is truly worried about fan apathy, he moved to the wrong sports city. conducted by the San Diego Union-Tribune in August, only 37% of Los Angelenos said it was “very” important that the city get an NFL team, and only 27% were very excited about that team being the Rams.
Sure, it was embarrassing for the Rams that 16 years into their stay in St Louis, a video was produced instructing them how to cheer at a football game.
But Kroenke never put much on the field worth cheering for. St Louis actually deserves some serious “best sports town” consideration for finding anyone at all willing to pay to watch the Rams. If the people of St Louis filled the Edward Jones Dome every Sunday, you’d really have to wonder why they had nothing better to do with their lives.
From 2007 through 2011, the Rams went 15-65. That’s the worst five-year stretch in NFL history. The team hasn’t had a winning season since 2003. In fact, in the Rams’ 21 years in St Louis, the franchise only had four winning seasons – and they all came in a five-year stretch between 1999 and 2003. That’s not the fault of the fans or the local economy. That’s all on the failings of the organization Kroenke runs. If it wasn’t for lucking out in uncovering a supermarket stock boy who could play quarterback at the end of the last century, Kroenke’s Rams would blow the Cleveland Browns out of the water for the coveted status of most pathetic NFL franchise.
But the Rams couldn’t even handle their good fortune in finding Kurt Warner the right way. The Rams improbably won the Super Bowl in the 1999 season, and went back two years later, only to lose – even more improbably – to no-name Tom Brady and a former Browns washout coach named Bill Belichick. Two injury-plagued seasons followed that for Warner and the Rams released him. In 2004 he played for the Giants and then went to Arizona, where the St Louis Cardinals went after the 1987 season. There, Warner helped turn the Cardinals franchise around and took them to a Super Bowl in 2008. Meanwhile, the Rams were in the midst of going 15-65. Well played, Kroenke.
When Warner left, so did any semblance of a franchise identity. While it feels like the should have won more than one championship, those Rams were the most exciting team in the NFL. They had Warner, Marshall Faulk, Torry Holt and his gnarly finger, Isaac Bruce, sack specialist Kevin Carter, and Dick Vermeil sobbing uncontrollably about everything. They had Mike Martz, the original Chip Kelly, believing he was smarter than everyone else. Warner was on the cover of Sports Illustrated. Faulk was on the cover of Madden (unfortunately). The St Louis Rams were the must-see NFL team.
Since then? What is one memorable thing about the St Louis Rams over the past 12 years? Nothing stands out to me. If I rack my brain, I recall Steven Jackson running through his NFL prime for hopeless teams. I can see a bunch of failed coaches whose names I don’t remember. More recently … uhh … oh, yeah, there was that game against the Steelers this year when the Rams accidentally lit their turf on fire.
Oh, and when Jeff Fisher allowed a visibly concussed Case Keenum to keep playing. And if we’re going glass half-full: the Rams wasting Aaron Donald and Todd Gurley like they did Jackson. Exciting! But that’s all I’ve got. The modern Rams brand has been nothing. They’re a losing team that might pop up on the NFL RedZone Channel a few times a Sunday when their opponent does something exciting. The team’s trademark helmet swirl didn’t so much represent a ram’s horn over the last decade. It depicted a franchise spiraling down the toilet.
The NFL relocation plan in place gives the Raiders and Chargers $100m if they build new stadiums in their current markets. The league should also give St Louis fans a check for $100m to split among themselves for having to watch the Rams for the last 21 years.
So Los Angeles now has the same team they had before. And not just in name. The current St Louis Rams are an exact carbon copy of the 1994 Los Angeles Rams that fled to St Louis. The 1994 Rams had a star running back in Jerome Bettis, a solid defense, a veteran coach in Chuck Knox who had lost an effectiveness that he once had, and two worthless quarterbacks in Chris Miller and Chris Chandler. The new have a star running back in Todd Gurley, a solid defense, a veteran coach in Jeff Fisher who long ago lost any effectiveness he once had, and two worthless quarterbacks in Nick Foles and Case Keenum. Hollywood loves putting out bad sequels to movies that weren’t all that good in the first place. These Rams should fit right in.
While the Rams will begin play in Los Angeles this year, most likely at the Coliseum, Kroenke plans to put his team in a massive facility in Inglewood by the start of the 2019 season. On Tuesday night, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones – who earlier this year said of Brandon Weeden: “You won’t find a more gifted passer” – called Kroenke’s Inglewood stadium plan: “Absolutely the greatest plan ever conceived in sports.”
Maybe Jones is right. Maybe Kroenke’s planned $2-point-something billion facility will be historic. With Kroenke’s team inside the glimmering facility, it will at least be the nicest garbage receptacle in world history.