photos by Daniela Buvat
When it comes to baseball, St. Louis basically wrote the book. But football? Well, that’s another story.
St. Louis didn’t get its first NFL team until 1960 when the Chicago Cardinals moved to escape the shadow of “Da Bears.” But the football Cardinals weren’t any more loyal to St. Louis than they were to Chicago, shipping out to Arizona after the 1987 season.
St. Louis got a second chance at football when the Rams moved to the banks of the Mississippi in 1995, lured by what was then a fancy new stadium, the Edward Jones Dome, and a city eager to fall in love with football again. But that affair was even shorter lived, ending in 2016 when the Rams returned to their former lover, Los Angeles.
Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice? Nope. No shame here. St. Louis knows who really lost in this divorce. But that doesn’t mean people feel great about it.
Karen Kelley’s love of the Rams has survived a lot. She spent around 150 Sundays at the Edward Jones Dome, attending nearly every game for 20 years. And don’t forget the two Super Bowls, one ending in glory and one, well, not so much.
But Kelley’s allegiance didn’t survive the move to L.A. “They kept me on their email list, which actually really pissed me off because they literally were trying to sell me season tickets and I was like, ‘Okay, you took my team that was two hours away and now you think that I still want to come?’”
Kelley, who lives 125 miles from St. Louis in Columbia, Missouri, might have been disappointed when the Rams left St. Louis, but she wasn’t surprised. “We kind of knew it had been talked about forever, but they would still ask us to renew our [personal seat licenses] for multiple years,” Kelley says.
Eventually, all that talk turned to action and Kelley put away her checkbook. “I don’t know at this point in my life if I’d have season tickets again,” Kelley says. So even though she has “sort of become a Chiefs fan,” Kansas City — which is also two hours from Columbia — is not getting her commitment like St. Louis once did. She’s not getting burned again.
When the team left, members of the “Ramily” were left behind.
Danielle Goldsmith was a Rams cheerleader for the 2016 season. “I had hoped I could continue for a few years on the sidelines for the Rams in St. Louis,” she says. Being a Rams cheerleader was not Goldsmith’s only job; all cheerleaders were required to have a full-time job or be a full-time student.
During her time as a cheerleader, Goldsmith maintained her position as an admissions counselor at Lindenwood University. But even her career didn’t stop her from thinking beyond St. Louis. “I actually did go out to L.A. and audition for the Los Angeles Rams. Me and a couple of other girls from the St. Louis Rams did, but they ended up not taking anyone from St. Louis.” New city, new cheerleaders.
“I had hoped I could continue for a few years on the sidelines for the Rams in St. Louis”
For Jim Thomas, it was a new beat. A sports writer at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Thomas had spent two decades covering the Rams. “I covered every game for the St. Louis Rams — 21 seasons, 431 games, not that I counted or anything,” Thomas says. Thomas went to every single Rams game, home and away. He was synonymous with the St. Louis Rams, so much so that he was invited to a special event to say goodbye to the Dome and the team, along with some of the “Greatest Show on Turf” Rams — the turn-of-the-millenia offense, led by Kurt Warner. Thomas said his goodbyes and moved to the St. Louis Blues hockey beat.
“My policy now is to only show the Rams if they lose,” says Frank Cusumano, sports director of St. Louis NBC-affiliate KSDK. “I believe that there’s no such thing as a bad NFL city; there’s only a bad NFL owner, which can poison and alienate the fans. And we won a lottery in hell because we got [Rams owner] Stan Kroenke.”
According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Kroenke’s relocation proposal to the NFL referred to St. Louis as “struggling” and as a city that “lags” behind other markets. St. Louis did not take kindly to that criticism, especially after years of supporting bad football. “People who don’t live here don’t realize we went through the worst five-year stretch in NFL history in terms of victories. Plus, we had an owner who never said one word to the fan base,” Cusumano says. “And we were supposed to support that?”
Kroenke’s team might have had the support of St. Louis fans, but his claims don’t have the support of the numbers. According to research conducted by the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, the unemployment rate of the St. Louis metro has been in a steady decline since February 2014. Kroenke’s relocation proposal was made public in January of 2016 when the unemployment rate was at 4.5 percent. As for its media influence, St. Louis is the 21st largest media market in the nation, despite the fact that the city itself is ranked 58th in terms of population.
Kroenke, a Missouri native, has cemented his legacy in St. Louis. “It wasn’t just that he left, it was they way he did it, kind of trashing St. Louis on his way out of town, talking about a ‘dying market’ that it couldn’t support three pro franchises. He didn’t have to do that.” Thomas says. “And that’s why he’s a villain and he’ll always be a villain in this town.”
The comments in Kroenke’s relocation proposal, followed by the Rams’ almost immediate departure, left a bitterness for many St. Louisans. “How could you do this to us? How could you do this to a city who supported you so well? How could you do this to your home state? How could you do this to passionate football fans, to rip an NFL team right out of our town and to rip our hearts like that?” Cusumano says.
“And that’s why he’s a villain and he’ll always be a villain in this town.”
St. Louis got dumped for the West Coast and, hey, sometimes dumpees are bitter. And maybe they should have known it couldn’t last. After all, the now-Los Angeles Rams, despite having been located a mere mile from the Illinois border in eastern Missouri, remained in the NFL’s NFC West conference after leaving the Midwest.
That said, the Cardinals and the Blues are still committed to The Gateway City. St. Louis can win this breakup. “We are a tremendous sports town,” Cusumano says. “And losing the NFL hurts, but we’re alive and kicking.”