Jared Lankford: Rams fans caught in nasty business

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

On Jan. 30, 2000, I was sitting on the floor of my brother's house in Seneca watching the upstart St. Louis Rams battle for NFL supremacy against the Tennessee Titans.

When former University of Missouri linebacker Mike Jones tackled Kevin Dyson inside the 1-yard line to preserve the Super Bowl title, everyone present celebrated. It was the best NFL championship game that we had ever watched. This contest went down to the final seconds before being settled.

The Super Bowl win converted several people, especially young people, into loyal Rams fans -- much in the same way the Royals' 1985 World Series win solidified a group of now 30-somethings' loyalties today.

The NFL has done the unthinkable and stripped St. Louis of its professional football franchise in order to move the team to a more lucrative Los Angeles market. Rams Owner Stan Kroenke turned into public enemy No. 1 for throwing the city under the bus in order to ease the transition out of town.

Kroenke, in a Salvatore Tessio-like explanation, said that the decision to leave wasn't personal, just business.

This is not the first time St. Louis fans have had their hearts ripped out with the loss of an NFL franchise. From 1960-87, the city was home to the St. Louis Cardinals football franchise.

In 2014, I was privileged to interview Jim Hanifan, who coached the Cardinals for six seasons (1980-85). I was surprised that nearly 30 years after being the head coach of the former St. Louis team, Hanifan was still offering condolences to the suffering Cardinals fans who lost their franchise to Arizona.

No doubt, the sting of the Rams leaving will endure for quite some time, but the ripples extend beyond the Edward Jones Dome. Missouri taxpayers are still on the hook for $72 million in stadium bonds, while the city of St. Louis and St. Louis County owe $36 million each on a facility that no longer has a tenant.

According to St. Louis sports reporter Frank Cusumano, the state tax loss is sizable, with $7.6 million less coming in from income tax for players. It's the equivalent of losing 2,500 employees earning $50,000 annually, not to mention the additional game day revenue from concessions and merchandise.

To add insult to injury, the probability that the league would move a franchise into a market that has been stripped of a team twice is slim, despite promises from NFL commissioner Roger Goodell to revisit locating a team to St. Louis.

The Dome is home to the Missouri State High School Activities Association

(MSHSAA) football state championships. MSHSAA Media Director Jason West said the organization is opening the bidding process for the games immediately in hopes of securing a home for the 2016-2017 Show-Me Bowl.

He said that St. Louis would be in the mix, but his organization needed to do its due diligence to ensure a place for the games.

Should the games leave the Dome, there is no guarantee that any one outdoor venue could host all seven championship games, including 8-man and Class 1 through Class 6. MSHSAA pays $180,000 per year to guarantee the use of the St. Louis 
indoor facility.

I feel for St. Louis fans. I'm not sure the old saying of making lemonade with lemons applies in this situation. Losing a NFL team is a gut-punch for any football fan.

For Rams fans, you will always have that highest of high feeling of a Super Bowl win, but also must suffer the indignity of seeing an owner insult you by saying you weren't good enough to his team.

But remember: It's not personal, it is just business.

Jared Lankford is the sports editor of the Cassville-Democrat. He can be reached at sports@monett-times.com, or 417-847-2610.

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