The line between love and hate is awfully thin.
It can often make us see things that aren’t there. When you first fall in love with someone, all the little things they do are so cute, but when you’ve fallen out of love or even drifted into hate, those same little things piss you off all over the place. When it comes to a sports team, there’s a whole lotta piss all over a whole lotta places.
Enter the Legends of the Dome event. Put on by the Isaac Bruce Foundation in late July, Legends of the Dome was a flag football game held at the Edward Jones Dome with an auction, meet-and-greet, and served as a tribute to the St. Louisi fans much in the same way that the fans are there to pay tribute to the players.
The respect was mutual, and the love was palpable.
Because of the offseason relocation to Los Angeles, Legends of the Dome was an interesting event. There was always a chance it would be awkward, and some found that to be the case. As one attendee put it, this was all about St. Louis and nothing about the Rams:
The Rams had zero to do with the Legends game, it was entirely the undertaking of the Isaac Bruce foundation. The Rams were never mentioned in any way but as a historical reference. The mid-field logo was Legends of the Dome. The end-zone paint, St. Louis, not Rams. This game was not a thank you, an acknowledgment, a nothing from the Rams. They had nothing to do with the event at all. It was about the Isaac Bruce Foundation (he put up his own money) and the players. Period. St. Louis fans put aside their feelings about the Rams organization to honor these players, heroes in our community.
Contrary to that emailer's belief, the Rams did help out with the event at Isaac Bruce’s request according to LA Daily News’ Vinny Bonsignore, who flew from Los Angeles to St. Louis to talk to fans about their feelings:
#Rams organization assisted in event, when asked by Isaac https://t.co/6wc9wsa6Je— Vincent Bonsignore (@DailyNewsVinny) July 23, 2016
His timeline from the day provided a great account of the day from an on-the-ground perspective.
The franchise's involvement with the game aside, let’s be real about the Rams. They’ve been pretty cold to St. Louis throughout the whole relocation process. I mean, Orlando Pace and Kevin Greene were given their Hall of Fame jackets last night, and owner Stan Kroenke couldn’t find the time to attend making him the only owner of an NFL franchise with inductees being honored who wasn't there.
When I set out to write this story, I was looking for a story about a community truly tested over the last couple of years finding a way to work with a team that had up and left on them because the community was more important to the both of them. Instead I discovered that the event was pretty much a reflection of real life.
Many people I spoke to found closure from the event. There was closure in letting go and choosing to remember the good times that were had. The Rams may once again belong to Los Angeles, but that Super Bowl championship will forever belong to St. Louis. Even this native Californian agrees that Los Angeles has no business ever trying to claim that crown. They haven’t yet and it doesn’t look like they will try, but the gates of hell will open if they do and justice will see them remain open until Kroenke has settled up with his business partner.
For St. Louis fans though, Legends of the Dome was cathartic. Arin Brewington attended the event and found inner peace:
A lot of fans looked at Legends of the Dome for closure. To be honest, I thought it would be that way for me. Due to various things big and small that have taken place since the move, I knew that Legends of the Dome was going to be the last day of my identity as Arin, Super-Rams-Fan. I was putting to rest a huge part of my identity, something that I had been for 2/3 of my life. I was excited. I was terrified. I was not ready.
Walking in, I didn't know what to expect. Would people be sad? Angry? Were we just going to chant Kroenke Sucks the whole time? Quickly though, I looked around and saw people smiling and laughing, waiting in line for autographs and pictures, decked out in their Rams gear one last time. This was the actual definition of "Football is Family."
I cannot properly express what a great time I had. I was in Row A of section 141, which is insanely close to the players. Marc Bulger and D'marco Farr came over at various times. Coach Vermeil waved at me and gave me a thumbs-up, and I nearly passed out. Torry Holt and Orlando Pace were interacting with us, and I witnessed Az Hakim throwing up after sprinting up and down the field like he was still in his 20s. So many familiar, comforting names were there, and they were there for us. They knew we cared. All those years of fandom were not in vain. They assured us of that over and over in lovely video messages, in their interactions with us, and even in just how much fun they were having. They weren't here because they had to be; they wanted to be there for us.
I teared up just writing that, and I teared up multiple times at the event. The lights went out for player intros and Andy Banker's voice rang out? Tears in my eyes. One last amazing anthem sung by Generald Wilson? Tears in my eyes. And when the sound of ten thousand people yelling out "BRUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUCE" for the man who put so much work into making this happen for us, who loves us as we love him, filled that Dome? The tears spilled out and I bawled.
I saw Warner to Bruce, Bulger to Holt, Warner to Wilkins weirdly a lot. I saw a grand total of (I'm almost certain) zero running plays. I witnessed soon-to-be-inducted HOF offensive lineman Orlando Pace score a touchdown, because Mike Martz is still an evil genius. I observed so many things from so many players that it makes my head spin and my heart happy. And when I left the Dome, I saw someone who will be playing in this game in a few years (Dome Legends twitter is hinting there's more to come!) make another beautiful gesture towards the fans in this city who supported them through the worst stretch of football in NFL history when Chris Long tweeted out, "Shout out to all my St. Louisans today. Hope it's a lot of fun down at the dome. Love y'all!"
For a lot of fans, I hope they got their closure. What I got was far more bittersweet. I walked out of the Dome knowing that I will always love the Rams. It is ingrained in me, and nothing the sleazebag GM or evil owner can do can take that from me. This coming season I don't know that I'll be able to watch much, and it certainly won't be the way it has been for 20 years of my life. But I know I'll be there, good and bad, thick and thin. I believe it will be sooner rather than later when I am ready to jump back in with my whole heart. After all, as I tweeted out right before I left my seats and exited an era of my life: "Goodbye Dome. I'll never love anything so hard as I loved the Rams."
And that’s the thing about love. We play a role in how long we hold on to sentiment.
There’s no denying St. Louis has every right to feel aggrieved by Kroenke’s actions. For many, time will be the only thing that heals their hearts. For some, what’s done can never be forgiven, and Kroenke will never be forgiven. For others, the good times will always be a part of their lives and that’s something Los Angeles can’t take (along with the Lombardi trophy).
Being a fan is like being in a relationship. Nobody should and can be expected to just "get over it," as some crass Los Angeles fans suggest. Everybody has a different process for getting over it. Being a decent human being dictates that you honor that so long as it doesn’t interfere with your life in any way.
Live and let live.
Legends of the Dome wasn’t any one particular thing. It was a different event for each person. But one thing was abundantly clear no matter who you talked to and how they felt about the move.
Seeing their ‘99 World Champions take the field one more time for the City of St. Louis was everything for St. Louisians and it’s a credit to Isaac Bruce and his foundation that it was such a raging success.
On the field, and off.