Football fans in St. Louis once again found themselves on the wrong end of a deal that sent an NFL team packing. And, just like in 1988 when the city lost the Cardinals to Phoenix, it was over dithering about a new stadium.
That saga eventually ended with team owner Bill Bidwill moving the team to a new stadium in the desert southwest. This time around, the Rams departure can be blamed on a no-win lease that gave the franchse an out if the Edward Jones Dome wasn't deemed in the top one-quarter of the facilities in the league. On Tuesday, league owners approved a plan that sends the Rams to the Los Angeles area, where they will move into a lavish new stadium in 2019 after playing at a temporary venue, most likely Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
While Stan Kroenke relocates the franchise, it's back to the bricks for a St. Louis task force that has a $1 billion plan and fancy artists renderings for a riverfront stadium that could also house an MLS franchise, but no prospective tenants. The task force said the decision "concludes a flawed process" and said it planned no "news events" the rest of the week.
Dave Peacock, co-head of task force, said in an impromptu conference call that the process was "more contemplated and contrived than I realized" and that it appeared "St. Louis never had a chance."
"We had aimed for a target, hit it, and they said, 'No, the target is over here.'"
Peacock concluded: "This is a byproduct of an owner who just didn't want to be here."
Attorney Bob Blitz, the other co-head of the task force, did not rule out legal action.
For now, the city that Kroenke harshly criticized for a lagging economy and has long been dissed as a "baseball town" is left with two professional teams.
"I thought the crowds were very good when I was here," said Dick Vermeil, who coached the Greatest Show on Turf team to the franchise's lone Super Bowl title in the 1999 season. "They were unbelievable when we turned the team around, and they were good when we were not going good."
During the Devils-Blues NHL telecast Tuesday night, St. Louis announcer John Kelly said simply, "Very disappointing news."
Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak said St. Louis was a "tremendous sports town."
"Historically, you put something out there people are proud of, they show up," Mozeliak said.
State and civic leaders who banded together in an effort to keep the Rams in town are feeling jilted.
"The NFL and Stan Kroenke have displayed a callous disregard for the St. Louis area and its loyal football fans," St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger said in a statement.
Mayor Francis Slay said "the NFL ignored the facts" and fans "who supported the team through far more downs than ups." Gov. Jay Nixon called the vote to approve the move "a clear deviation from the NFL's guidelines."
"It is troubling that the league would allow for the relocation of a team when a home market has worked in good faith and presented a strong and viable proposal," Nixon added.
Fans echoed those sentiments after ponying up for personal seat licenses and season tickets without a winning record to show for the last dozen years. At Tuesday night's Blues game, the fans made derogatory chants about Kroenke.
Brian King was 6 years old when the Rams arrived in 1995 and his father purchased season tickets. Until last year one of the family cars was a '93 van that had a Rams tire cover on the back and Rams magnets on the doors. Over the years, King estimates the family spent around $50,000 following the team, including trips to training camp in Macomb, Illinois.
"I'd say I wasted a lot of hours reading about relocation, hours I'll never get back," King said.
Vermeil loved Kroenke during the Rams' glory years in St. Louis when Georgia Frontiere was owner. Kroenke was then minority partner and was often seen glad-handing with players and media in the locker room on game days.
"He was absolutely outstanding," Vermeil said. "How I've explained it in the past is, he had enough money to be any kind of guy he wanted to be."
Not enough money -- or desire -- to stay in St. Louis, however. In the relocation application, Kroenke said a team willing to accept the stadium deal would be on the path to "financial ruin."
"We have negotiated in good faith with the Regional Sports Authority for more than a decade trying to find a viable and sustainable solution," Kroenke said in a statement. "When it became apparent that we might not be able to reach an agreement, it was then and only then that we looked at alternatives."
Dwindling attendance was cited on the Rams' relocation application. It didn't note there had been just four winning seasons out of 21 -- all of them coming in a five-year stretch that former coach Mike Martz often referred to as a "special place in time" and featured high-powered offensive juggernauts led by Kurt Warner and Marshall Faulk.
But the Rams have, overall, been a flop in St. Louis. Included in the dozen-year drought is a five-year stretch in which they averaged just three wins per season -- the worst such period in league history. Until 2006 every home game was a sellout. None was this year, perhaps strengthening Kroenke's case.