On December 24, 1994, the Rams played their final game in Los Angeles.
On September 12, 2016, the Rams played a game which made the previous statement untrue.
While the Rams, the NFL and much of the national media heralded it as the “return” of the Rams to Los Angeles, the truth is you can’t fill in those 21 years of Los Angeles history. They’re left blank on the local level. Sure, many Rams fans like myself followed the team from LA to St. Louis and continued to support them into the Greatest Show on Turf and through these last 13 winless season. Many, understandably, did not. As Georgia Frontiere made herself public enemy #1 in 1994, the Raiders were exiting town as well.
In 1995, the second biggest city in the country was home to zero NFL teams. And it stayed that way for 21 years.
For 21 years, new fans of football in Los Angeles were not privy to the ease of rooting for the home team. The population in the LA statisical area in 1995 was roughly 11.7 million people. As of 2010, it was nearly 12.9 million. So all the new Los Angelenos either by birth or by immigration had no home team to cling to.
When the Rams returned, many had waited for as much since 1994. Sure, LA had a Rams fan base eagerly awaiting for the return of the Rams. But it wasn’t all of LA. You couldn’t simply fill in those 21 years with marketing alone.
So over the first two weeks of the 2017 season as late-arriving, less than capacity crowds at the Coliseum have made national headlines about a year and a half since the NFL approved the relocation of the Rams (and similar photos of empty seats at the StubHub Center where the Los Angeles Chargers are playing out their first season returning to LA since the one-year run of the 1960 Chargers), many pundits have wondered how much Los Angeles cares about NFL football and about the Rams.
What they misunderstand is that fans are not imbeciles. We’re not lemmings. If you open the door, we don’t just flock to football like a moth to a flame.
It has to be...yanno...good. On the field, and off.
I remember the early 1990s Rams well. They weren’t good.
The final five season in Los Angeles produced five losing teams that shared Anaheim Stadium with the Los Angeles Angels to pity and scorn and something in between as well. Fans didn’t show up in great numbers because...well why would we? Sure, the committed, obsessed far corner of the fan base did, but there’s never enough of those of us to fill stadia.
And so the narrative grew. Los Angeles didn’t like the Rams. Or the NFL. Or football. Or it was a baseball town. Or a basketball town. It didn’t matter. What was key was to blame fans and blame Los Angeles. Surely the team didn’t hold any responsibility.
In 2003, the 12-4 St. Louis Rams lost to the Carolina Panthers as a young Steve Smith won the game in overtime with a 69-yard touchdown.
It was the last time the Rams would post a winning record.
From 2003 to 2015, the Rams lost. A lot. No, more than that. Keep going. You’re almost there. Yes, that much.
The 2007-2011 Rams were the worst team over a five-year stretch in NFL history. Fan support eroded. The Edward Jones Dome was often filled with more fans of the visiting opponent than Rams fans. So as Owner Stan Kroenke planned to move the team over the final years in St. Louis, we saw lazy or ignorant or pernicious media repeat the claims heard in LA twenty years prior.
Los Angeles didn’t like the Rams. Or the NFL. Or football. Or it was a baseball town. Or a hockey town. It didn’t matter. What was key was to blame fans and blame St. Louis. Again. Surely the team didn’t hold any responsibility.
In the last two weeks, we’ve seen the same kind of lazy, ignorance.
Fans, as a whole, are wise enough to know who the Rams are as a franchise and make appropriate decisions with the two most valuable currencies of all: their money and their time.
A franchise that misled two cities over 25 years. A franchise that hasn’t won in 13 years. A franchise that, as they would have you believe, doesn’t hold any responsibility for giving fans, committed, casual and otherwise, a reason to show up.
Yes, something must be wrong with Los Angeles and St. Louis and any city and any fan who doesn’t show up to pledge fealty to the NFL every Sunday.
Otherwise, the media would have to consider that NFL teams are something less than infallible entities that in many cases give those media members jobs in the first place.