You should always go to other people’s funerals, otherwise they won’t come to yours.
While funny on the surface, Yogi Berra spoke a plain truth central to the deeply Catholic south St. Louis neighborhood in which he was raised.
As a non-native and a non-Catholic, I didn’t fully comprehend that sentiment until my daughter reached school age. We sent her to a parish school about ten blocks from Berra’s childhood home and were suddenly introduced to the doctrine of "obligation." Loosely stated, once you join the parish community, you are obligated to contribute to it in some way. Not only with tuition money but with your body and hands and spirit.
Simply by standing shoulder-to-shoulder with other school parents in the kitchen on fish fry Fridays commiserating over Busch beers held in dishpan hands, I was giving part of myself to this community and simultaneously getting the best part of them in the care and upbringing of my little girl. By asking me to pay with something other than money and by paying me back in kind, the parish made the thousands of dollars I was spending in tuition look like a bargain.
There are dozens and dozens of parish schools dotting the St Louis landscape, tens of thousands of similar bargains being struck at various schools, carnival raffles, bowling leagues and bingo halls. The character of this town -- of this fanbase -- is dominated by that sense of obligation.
I’ve rarely ever heard the stereotypic Missourian words "show me," but the language of reciprocity is universal here. In order to get, we must give. And yes, we go to each others’ funerals, and someday they will all come to ours.
But maybe not this one.
Not this rolling funeral for the Saint Louis Rams that is the 2015 NFL season.
St. Louis Rams Owner Stan Kroenke has broken every obligation to this city, putting a full stop on any St Louis negotiation after just one round of proposals and counter-proposals with the CVC to upgrade the dome. That was July 2013. A year and a half of semi-secret planning followed, culminating with the big reveal of Kroenke’s master plan to move the Rams to Los Angeles.
With that plan now out in the open, Kroenke refuses to deal with or even acknowledge the efforts of Dave Peacock and Bob Blitz’s new group to circumvent the CVC (and local voters and multiple statutes) get a new stadium built. A stadium that would be partially funded by a new round of Personal Seat Licenses -- a pseudo-legal fan tax that we would find appalling if it were not our only means of securing NFL football for our city.
We have to give to get, after all.
It’s becoming increasingly clear that, no matter what Peacock and Blitz do, no stadium will be built here and the Rams will not be kept here as long as it requires a single dollar out of Stan Kroenke’s pocket. Kroenke refuses to obligate himself further to this city, despite survey results showing that these aggrieved St Louis fans would buy those PSLs, buy those corporate boxes and season tickets and jerseys and blue-and-gold foam koozies for our Busch beer bottles. Despite these fans consistently selling out the Dome for the eleven years and counting of non-winning, barely-competitive football that followed the all-too-brief Greatest Show era.
For some local fans, it may be love alone that keeps them coming back, year after year, to a dank and cavernous dome for little emotional payoff. But for many many thousands more, I suspect, it was obligation. An obligation that is now broken, perhaps irrevocably.
Those of us who still hope are dependent on Roger Goodell and at least nine other NFL owners to remind Kroenke of that obligation. Given the erratic and optics-based way Goodell deals out justice, I’m not filled with confidence when the NFL says it will "manage the outcome" as regards the three teams jostling for the Los Angeles market.
To be clear, I love the Rams -- the team, the jersey, its history and its players -- no less. I’ll follow them online, watch games faithfully on TV, and obsess as always over NFL coaches’ film in the aftermath. But I no longer feel obligated to give Kroenke my paycheck to signify that love. Based on puny season ticket sales and the preseason emptiness in the Edward Jones Dome, it seems many more fans here feel that same way.
This cold-hearted calculus comes at a time when the Rams might be legitimately fun to watch again.
There is incredible talent and barely-controlled chaos on the defensive side of the ball, and signs that the offense might emerge from Brian Schottenheimer’s cloud of confusion. If they can break the Jeff Fisher characteristic of starting slow, and if the young offensive line can come together -- two ifs the size of circus elephants parading around this offseason -- this could be a playoff team. Perhaps the first of many.
Will it hurt all the more if the Rams do well before leaving town? Definitely.
Will a winning team put butts in seats? Very likely.
But will my butt in a seat in a new Todd Gurley jersey keep the Rams in St Louis? Probably not.
This is looking like the year that the NFL in STL dies.
Am I going to this funeral? Honestly, I don’t know yet.