Timing Is Everything

EARTH CITY, MO - JANUARY 17: St. Louis Rams Executive Vice President of Football Operations & Chief Operating Officer Kevin Demoff introduces new head coach Jeff Fisher (right) as team owner Stan Kroenke listens during a press conference at the Russell Training Center on January 17, 2012 in Earth City, Missouri. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)

Anyone that follows the Xs and Os of football knows that timing is everything. Timing is also one of those key factors the St. Louis Rams missed out on in recent years. From the team's wide receivers failing to execute basic routes to missed opportunities in the draft, timing is just another fundamental aspect of football the Rams got wrong in the years since the demise of the Greatest Show on Turf. Now, they could really be paying for it ... literally.

On Monday, the Rams' proposal for the Edward Jones Dome was revealed. Within hours of the Attorney General making the document public, a cost estimate of more than $700 million from the CVC surfaced. Mayor Francis Slay sent his spokesperson out to urge the CVC to reject the deal and warn of dire consequences were such a plan to be enacted.

Talk radio phones lit up and various polls, scientific and otherwise, surfaced pointing out the seeming impossibility of undertaking a project of that magnitude with public resources.

The Rams' plan represents a step in the negotiating process. The team's vision for what a "first tier" facility should look like. There will be at least another year of back and forth over the issue, and I would be shocked if this thing got settled before March 2015.

Wherever you fall along the spectrum of visceral reaction to the proposal, public support for a stadium fix of that magnitude looks shaky at best.

But I can't help but wonder if things might have been different had the Rams been a different team over the last 10 years.

Since taking over the team from her late husband Carroll Rosenbloom, Georgia Frontiere's Rams were mostly identified by their dysfunction, other than a few anomalous instances in the 1980s in LA and the Dick Vermeil period in St. Louis.

As I noted in this profile of a group of LA fans trying to bring the Rams back, there was a prevailing sense that ownership did not care. You could say the same thing about the Rams team in St. Louis, especially since it was the same group of people running the show, headlined by Frontiere's lead bean counter John Shaw.

I don't know what the exact corporate direction was, much less the football direction, during that stretch, but tales of internal power struggles and an endless steak of questionable personnel decisions, interrupted only during the tenure of Vermeil, left fans in St. Louis, just as those in LA, questioning whether or not the team's leadership valued winning over profit extraction.

Eventually, a half-empty lower bowl at most home games told you all you needed know.

The difference between fans in LA and fans in St. Louis is that the Rams had a much longer remarkable run there that sunk roots in the city. Gradually, Frontiete hacked those roots away in order to leave Southern California.

Ten years of losing in St. Louis alienated whatever connection the team established during their 1999-2001 run. It also left them exposed without a large grassroots base of St. Louis area fans and a deeply embedded place in the local culture. Deathly quiet Sundays at the Dome will make it that much harder to get a stadium deal done.

In the months since the Dome lease issues hit the front page again, some have portrayed Stan Kroenke as a rapacious carpetbagger, intent on bleeding the public for his own good or pulling up stake for greener pastures somewhere else. The truth is more complicated than that.

We're right to raise an eyebrow when billionaire real estate developers with a hobby in professional sports start eyeing the public till as their own. I'm not saying the man deserves sainthood, much less alms from the state's working people, but for the first time since 1979 the Rams have an owner that cares about winning as much as profitability and winning interoffice territorial battles.

This will be Kroenke's second season as the sole owner of the Rams. He cleaned house during the offseason, bringing in a blue chip head coach in an effort to turn around a franchise that should have been turned around several times in the decade prior.

It was a good faith effort to finally establish a winning Rams team. Of course, that's a mutually beneficial thing, since winning begets ticket sales which amount to more 'jack' in the owner's pocket. But, that's the pact we make as fans.

Optimism around the Rams is as high now as I've ever seen it, having run this site since 2006, the first time the old guard tried again to reset the direction of the franchise. Linehan, Spagnuolo ... those attempts, while encouraging, lacked the same kind of heft as the changes made this year.

Will these changes be enough to build a fan base? Will St. Louis fans marshal the same kind of support to keep the team, if it actually comes to that, that the fans in LA have done?

The Rams' efforts to get their on-field product producing come just as the bitter politics of a stadium battle emerge. It's hard not to wonder about the tone of this discussion had the Rams, under Frontiere, not squandered their chance to build a local fan base to rival those of the city's other two professional sports franchises.

Timing is everything in the NFL. The Rams and their fans are about to find out if whether or not they have things synced up correctly.

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