Nobody holds the old NFL media gatekeeper role down more than Sports Illustrated's Peter King.
King has cultivated relationships across the NFL map for 35 years since getting his start with the Cincinnati Enquirer. From his clear affinity for Jeff Fisher (or his clear affinity for the NFL-ness of Jeff Fisher, which can't be separated from Jeff Fisher the person) or his relishing of his role as an unfettered gatekeeper serving at the behest of the NFL powers-at-large (see: Ray Rice story, Cam Newton, goofy Robin Williams story, goofier Andrew McCutcheon story, or this goddamn photo which is just visual ipecac), nobody should question his old-school NFLness. He is the dean of Old NFL Media U.
Which is why we should all take note that he's finally gotten around to taking his MMQB column into the Los Angeles/St Louis/San Diego/Oakland talks. It's less about Peter King and more about the eye of the old guard finally taking this seriously. All you need is the opening:
"What’s your gut feeling about the number of NFL teams playing football in Los Angeles in 2020—zero, one or two?" I asked Eric Grubman, an NFL senior vice president and the league’s point man on the L.A. market, on Friday.
"I don’t know the number," he said near the end of a 35-minute interview. "But the least probable of those numbers is zero. I would say we’ve gone above the 50 percent probability that we’ll have at least one team there."
The mystery brews. "You have to have some stomach to let the thing play out," Grubman said. "I don’t know what’s going to happen. Right now I don’t think anyone does. I do know this: Los Angeles has real momentum for the first time in 20 years."
Which is why he's finally gotten around to going long on it. It's moved from the fringe into the mainstream, which is more than you can say for the actual Rams...but I digress.
In any case, there's also fancy new artwork, which is enough to get King to pay attention:
This is the first time anyone outside the league or the committee charged with keeping the Rams in St. Louis has seen the renderings of the proposed $1 billion, 64,000-seat open-air riverfront football stadium on the banks of the Mississippi River. Grubman has been to St. Louis on several occasions to meet with the group working to keep the Rams in town and working to clear 90 acres on the riverfront and get funding for the stadium, and he’s bullish on their prospects. But prospects for what? Keeping the Rams—even though Kroenke has not been part of the discussions at all, instead choosing to have Rams COO Kevin Demoff head the team’s delegation in dealing with the transition? Preparing for a rainy day, and taking one of the teams (San Diego or Oakland) that doesn’t get a stadium built and sees the prospect of a shiny middle-American palace in a top-25 market? No one knows. But the venue is currency in these stadium-driven times.
Let's not lie. It' a nice looking facility. Sure, the retractable dome feature would be something to be discussed down the line. And yes, capacity would be a topic at the table as well. But it's a hell of a starting point.
So St. Louis has an owner with one foot out the door but with a solid plan to keep the team in a beautiful stadium. The preferred goal of San Diego and Oakland is to stay in San Diego and Oakland. Or, as Grubman said: "St. Louis is being aggressive and specific. San Diego recently has shown potential to be aggressive, but has not yet been specific. Oakland has been neither aggressive nor specific."
"If you asked the 10 people closest to this issue to all write their predictions down on what will happen to these teams [and the Los Angeles market] and seal them in envelopes, you’d have 10 different answers written down," Grubman said. He’s right—but Kroenke’s in the best position of them all, here in the first quarter of the Los Angeles game.
King's right. It's the first quarter, but it's a quarter that's been playing out for years. He's just now paying attention. It's why we all are already.