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Future of the NFL in Los Angeles

Posted By Greg Quintero On Oct 8 2012 @ 12:13 am In NFL | 25 Comments

Class of 2012 seniors graduating from Southern California high schools this past spring held the distinction of being the first to do so without an NFL football team in Los Angeles in their lifetime. It is quite astonishing a major market such as Los Angeles has been without professional football since the Rams and Raiders both packed their bags following Christmas Eve games at the conclusion of the 1994 season. Both teams were relocated by similarly eccentric and bottom line owners for greener pastures with marginal success, the Rams winning one Super Bowl, and the Raiders fading into NFL obscurity and becoming a punch line to many jokes about NFL futility.  Many local fans likely share a similar point of view as myself, too young in 1994 to understand what the city had lost, and left now with only fading memories of the NFL in Southern California. Being left with no dog in the fight, no hometown team to support has left a hallow feeling on Sundays where the NFL is concerned. Certainly I’ve had some rooting interests over the years, the Green Bay Packers during the Brett Favre era, the Raiders for the ties they left in Southern California, and recently the Chicago Bears thanks to my wife’s unwavering support of the team. However, none of these had the feeling of “My” team, one to ride the ups and downs with as has always been the hope.

That hope has been given some possibility in recent years due to Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG) stepping forward and offering to build a stadium in downtown Los Angeles on their dime. This clears what has always been the biggest hurdle in returning the NFL to Southern California, building a new stadium without a cost to tax payers. A point of concern has recently been the pending sale of AEG, but the group and city have indicated that the downtown stadium plan must be included in any possible sale. While ground hasn’t even been broke on Farmers Field enough progress has been made to allow fans to ask the next question, just who would be playing here on Sundays? Potential teams such as the Minnesota Vikings and Jacksonville Jaguars have been eliminated due to a new stadium plan and a new ownership group respectively. The most commonly accepted short list is now down to the San Diego Chargers, Oakland Raiders, and popular dark horse St. Louis Rams, whom I believe to be the best fit.

At first glance the San Diego Chargers seem an obvious choice for relocation, and may well be the home team when Farmers Field opens for business in 2016. The Chargers have established a respectable fan base in Los Angeles and Orange County, and have seen sagging home attendance in San Diego result in television blackouts and more speculation about a possible move. While a team with a sizeable fan base in Los Angeles and a roster ready to compete are appealing factors supporting a move up Interstate 5, several other factors can’t be over looked. Chargers owner Dean Spanos has taken a team a few short seasons removed from a 14-2 season and steered them dangerously close to football mediocrity. By providing a stay of execution to General Manager A.J. Smith and Head coach Norv Turner for a second consecutive season, and letting several high profile players leave via free agency Spanos commitment to winning has been called into question. If this trend continues moving the franchise to Los Angeles and having success could be a tricky proposition. Los Angeles is unique to other cities, having many alternatives for entertainment which could force the Chargers to be competitive immediately or face a similar fate to what they’ve seen in San Diego. Additionally, passing on the Chargers in favor of another team would give both Los Angeles and San Diego a boost with an instant rivalry which could substantially help the success of both franchises.

A second option is a relocation of the Raiders to Los Angeles for a second time, a move with substantial risk and possible reward. The Raiders have enjoyed strong fan support while playing in both ends of California, but in his last days even polarizing owner Al Davis realized his teams roots were in Oakland and should remain there. The team was founded in the Bay Area and enjoyed its greatest success there, and the decade spent in L.A. seemed more about Al Davis thumbing his nose at Oakland than making the team successful here. The popularity in the team enjoyed in Southern California can’t be denied, but it was something of a lightning in a bottle effect. The Silver and Black were enjoying success on the field, and were buoyed by fledgling South L.A. “Ganster Rap” acts proudly wearing the team’s apparel. This pairing forever changed the reputation of the team, boosting popularity immensely in the divisive early 90’s, and serving as an albatross since then. This reputation is now a part of the franchise’s fabric, and would be a tough sell in a city still rehabilitating its image after the senseless Brian Stow beating outside of Dodger Stadium. A second relocation would play well to a large part of the community, but be a detriment to the city in the long run.

Moving the St. Louis Rams back to Los Angeles faces the most hurdles to bring to fruition, and yet is most worth the effort. As the Raiders are truly Oakland’s team, the Rams are Los Angeles’. The names Ferragamo, Slater and Youngblood still entice a reaction of pride from the loyalist of Los Angeles football fans. Before “Showtime”, “Fernandomania”, or Gretzky there were the Rams, Los Angeles pride and heartache. St. Louis native, and then owner Georgia Frontiere slowly eroded that fan base by fielding a series of non-competitive teams, until she had enough leverage to uproot the team and move them to her home city. A short five years later, the ultimate insult to injury was inflicted when the team that always seemed just short of grabbing the brass ring, were now Super Bowl Champions. 13 years after that Super Bowl Los Angeles is still without football and the Rams are now facing a lack of fan support in St. Louis, and major renovations needed on their arena. Billionaire Stan Kroenke now owns the Rams, and is openly keen about sports in Los Angeles leading to speculation about where the team’s future is. If St. Louis doesn’t pony up for the necessary renovation (A matter currently being heard in court) the Rams likely would be
heading West again.

With football returning to Los Angeles moving from possible to the realm of probable the city must focus on making it a success this time. The team must be correctly marketed to compete with the Lakers, Dodgers, and yes even the Los Angeles Kings. The novelty of having a football team in our backyard will carry the team for a couple of seasons, but for continued success the city must love the team. There is no better hope for this than with the Rams who have a hibernating fan base ready to wake, and an established history in the city. They are the Rams, they are L.A.

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