Rooting for Tom Brady in St. Louis? Has it really come down to this?
Extreme outcomes call for extreme measures, and this weekend represents the most remote possible outcome becoming a last ditch reality. All because this Sunday, the former St. Louis Rams will return to the Super Bowl for the first time in 18 years, since their first infamous showdown with the New England Patriots at Super Bowl XXXVI.
It should be a time of excitement, as the chance for would-be revenge versus the villainous Patriots is at hand for a city that believes in earnest a second Super Bowl was stolen from their grasp. Instead it is a bitter pairing between two franchises that many of along the Mississippi River don’t know who to hate more.
However, for even the most ardent detractors for Brady, Belichick and all they represent in the St. Louis area are likely able to put their hatred of the Patriots aside for one day. Because it is abundantly clear who the enemy is this Sunday, as it is the team that stirs up the greatest sense of loss possible in all of sports.
It is the cheaters versus the traitors, with the traitors easily being the ones to line up against en mass.
‘It’s a secret society/all we ask is trust’ - Shawn Carter, 2000
Loyalty is required on some front for any sports fan. Regional devotion to a team that can only be harbored between citizen and local franchise alike. This requires a level of unconditional, associative love that is rife with sacrifice, built on the possibility of shared joy between team and city, as well as player and fan, of victory on the highest level.
Along with this pledge comes an implied contract between fan, team, owner and league: we invest with you money, time, attention and devotion, and in turn you put the best possible product on display for our investment. It’s a reasonable showing of faith – albeit one that was violated in the most egregious of ways possible over course of several years via the Rams versus the citizens of St. Louis, Missouri. This is because the city held witness to and became victim of one of the most egregious violations of intent in professional sports history. This is what E. Stanley Kroenke, the owner of the then-St. Louis Rams, successfully conspired to accomplish in his calculated abandonment of the city of St. Louis.Photo by Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images
The incredible laundry list of plotting, scheming and misrepresenting the city during their efforts to flee westward is a numerous one. It stands as a stunning misuse of power and rule-shifting, even by the NFL’s nefarious standards.
What is done is done and the show must go on, even if you are no longer privy to it, nor have a taste for its involvement. Yet, it's still impossible to see the Rams standing as NFC Champions, riding high as they prepare to take on the Patriots in the Super Bowl yet again and not have the ultimate bad taste in your mouth for many a St. Louis football fan, past or present.
Or is it? Despite ugliness of the Rams' departure from the city, there are still many, both regionally and beyond, who still somehow stand as supporters of the team. It’s a confusing and often defensive lot that either does not see the misconduct that was perpetuated against their city or simply has preternatural ability to turn the blind eye
In my opinion, with a few notable exceptions, there is only one side of that line to stand on for people of St. Louis: you cannot in good faith say you are support of the city and be a Rams fan all at once. Those two things run completely counter to each other. As is the case with most things in life, you must pick a side, and once you do, you cannot be a part of the other. It’s that simple.
There are a few exceptions to this rule of course. There are many former St. Louis Rams players and associates who still call the city home. There are also those that were tied to the team via employment who decided to not forsake their career in name of taking a side in the city’s affairs. For those involved from that angle, it is completely understandable to carry on the association with an organization which made a decision that fundamentally altered their lifestyles. Again, no quarrels there.
But the situation for those with options is much different. It is important to understand why there are so many torches raised in the crowd in the first place. While the team leaving at all was going to create some strife, the style in which it took place was what truly cemented a conspiratorial belief that this was done to make the NFL's biggest dream to come true - a return to Los Angeles, come hell or high water.
As a pair of final kicks in the side, as a part of the relocation application, the Rams painted St. Louis as something akin to a third-world nation, incapable of supporting an NFL team. Citing that any team that is allowed in St. Louis would ‘harm the League’ and ‘be on the road to financial ruin’.
Meanwhile, a quick fact check would seem to indicate otherwise, no? The Rams sold out every game from 1995 to 2007, when an 0-8 start finally pushed even the most ardent supporters of the team out the door. At their peak, they outdrew even the St. Louis Cardinals head-to-head during a postseason run in baseball-crazed city. That sounds pretty far from type of area that is incapable of supporting an NFL team.
This has to be how Julius Caesar felt that tough afternoon at the Theatre of Pompey.
Now, despite all of the evidence to the contrary, there are still those that can somehow call themselves St. Louisans AND Rams fans. Mind-blowing, right? But somehow, it is possible and along with this, there is a laundry list-worth of justifications excuses for this rationale.
The “How can you be mad at Stan for making the business move he did” crowd.
Well, there’s an easy answer to that: you can’t and shouldn’t. Kroenke did what he does best: flip properties with potential into one with real-world value. He truly deserves an HGTV show of his own for sports franchising. The Rams went from a $450 million purchase in 2010 to a billion-dollar valuation has recently as last year. He had transformed one of the NFL’s most meandering properties into one of the most valuable in all of professional sports overnight. Kudos for the brilliant business move are deserved.
But to ignore the ugliness of how it was accomplished requires turning a massive blind eye towards everything that transpired around the move itself. While Kroenke did make the logical business maneuver, he also conspired against, underdelivered for and misrepresented the entire St. Louis area to accomplish the task. He did the minimum required to keep the team operational, all while purposefully not investing in a roster that could win, in order to drive people away from investing in the product.
Jeff Fisher was hired as known coaching name at the time, presented as stabilizing presence. But in all, he did little to change the dismal product on the field, failing to produce a .500 record over four seasons in St. Louis.
But what he did have experience with? Relocation. Fisher had traveled east with the Houston Oilers during their conversion into the Tennessee Oilers — eventually becoming the Titans — in 1997. He had experience in doing exactly what Kroenke needed: being a bookmark coach until it was time for the franchise to rise again once it landed in the promised land of Southern California.
The intentional mismanagement of the on-field product to poison the water among the fans, in order to create the image of a non-interested fan base is blatant as it gets. Then add in the $60 million tab he left hanging on the city as well? Yeah, its easy to not get behind that way of business for anybody with even the faintest hint of a civic pulse.
The ‘Turn your location on’ fans
There are a great many carryover Rams fans who are natives of the area, but have moved from area themselves. For those people, it is inordinately easy to carry over their fanhood….because it didn’t impact them at all. They left the team behind in the same way they left the city behind. Now, that’s not to take a shot at those that leave for opportunity elsewhere, because that is a noble pursuit. But it is impossible to truly be tied into the plight of a city you inhabit only on holidays, at best.
But at the same time, there is a fair question to ask about hometown pride. If you can fully be aware of the events that transpired around the team’s despicable effort to leave the city and commentary on the area that you distantly call home, can you truly say that you love your hometown if you continue to support those perpetrators in full? Seems hard to have it both ways to me.
The ‘Suck it up and get over it’ crowd.
To say that the people who were taken along for this ride should ‘suck it up’, ‘move on’ or whatever other dismissive commentary that has become popular from afar is bullshit. In nearly all other walks of life, lies and deceit are not condoned in such a fashion, but its okay when its someone making a business move with ‘their’ property? Nope, its not that easy.
It shames the inherent emotional capital that being a rooting sports fan is. They’re not here for the business beyond what the ticket price is and how much a beer or hot dog is running. They are here for the investment in the team, which make no mistake is an attachable emotional journey akin to that of a romantic relationship. There are good times, bad times and a lot of in-between. But after years of giving passes you likely wouldn’t give to anyone else in the same instance, the breakup is a bitter one – especially if they leave you on conspicuous circumstances.
Let’s put this into real-life terms, why don’t we?
So then imagine that after that breakup, you look up and they have gotten ALL of their shit together, overnight. Bad management is addressed, personal (or personnel, in this case) decisions tighten up.
Then meanwhile, you still see your own family members on Instagram hanging out with them! Basking in the celebration of your ex’s new life, all the while you left with the void of the loss AND the potential you believed in finally being realized? That is a totality of betrayal that nobody would forgive on any front, let alone quickly bounce back from. So to expect that they should celebrate that subsequent turnaround is as laughable as watching cable news these days.
Anybody throwing rocks and saying that it’s a ‘bitter ex-syndrome’ or ‘just get over it’ either is an outright liar or does not take sports serious enough to have seat at the table in the discussion. No middle ground on that.
It's the only team I’ve ever known, so I’m sticking with them.
That’s probably what a lot of people who are stuck with a political party they no longer identify with say to themselves as well. I’ve always been with these guys, so I’m leaving now, even if deep down, I know it isn’t representing me well – especially at the Thanksgiving table. Life is about tough choices and sometimes those decisions get made for you. This is one of those cases.
What drives fanhood more than anything else is passion. The second defining factor is devotion. When either of those is violated — especially via the team’s core source — the response will be outrage, at all associated. And by alignment with the Los Angeles Rams, some have chosen them over their city. It is the equivalent of a sports war crime.
Kroenke’s biggest crime was that he didn’t give a shit about civic goodwill or appearances, only what enhances his pockets the quickest. It is a type of cold, self-serving selfness that get admonished by many in politics, but is condoned in the sporting universe. Kroenke is in business for himself, and the same can be said for those who have decided to take up team over city are as well. It’s not surprising to see that those in that camp feel so at ease with their decision.
Kroenke is a virus that inhabits and ruthlessly overtakes everything he touches. And what is the worst part about it is that he does it in such a clandestine manner, that you don’t realized the full extent of his damage until its already ravaged you.
I guess the final question for those remaining Rams fans in St. Louis is a simple one: what did your city every do to you that was so bad that you choose to align yourself with this guy instead of the interests and image of your hometown?
It is tough to see how you can hate the Patriots for 20 years for cheating to win a game, yet be completely okay in carrying on at the side of team that completely betrayed your city in full.
But hey, maybe that’s just me. But probably not.
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