The NFL's road back to Los Angeles was supposed to be a triumphant journey of blaring trumpets and scattered roses.
Instead, it's been a bumpy ride through burning tires and mounds of trash.
It was supposed to be about the return of legacies and restoration of memories to the nation's biggest football town.
Instead, it's been about the whims of rich men who see the Southland only as one of the nation's biggest ATMs.
The road will supposedly end next week in Houston when the NFL owners will supposedly vote on which of the three candidates will make the move, if any. Twenty years have been boiled down to a few days. Millions of dollars have come down to a show of 32 hands.
Yet even now, nobody has any idea who will be selected because the owners aren't basing any of this on football, but politics. This isn't about winning over a city, it's about winning over a boardroom.
The road to Los Angeles hasn't really been about Los Angeles at all, it's been about friends helping friends get out of St. Louis or Oakland or San Diego.
Some owners want to take care of their buddy Stan Kroenke and his Rams. Others feel more loyalty to Dean Spanos and his Chargers. Everyone feels sorry for Mark Davis and his lost Raiders.
Nobody, it seems, really seems to care how any of this will affect the object of everyone's affection. Los Angeles is being treated as a lifetime appreciation award, not a vibrant yet vacant home that will require the right occupant and much nurturing.
Did anybody else hear Chargers owner Spanos explain why he wanted to come to town?
"Over 25% of our business comes from Riverside County, Orange County and the Los Angeles County area," he told Chargers.com. "Another team or team going in there would have huge impact on that. I think that is what really was the catalyst that got this whole thing going because when the Rams decided to make their move there, this was a move to protect our business more than anything."
A move to protect their business? Blush. Los Angeles should be so flattered.
The Rams, meanwhile, want to walk away from at least $400 million in public money, explaining in their relocation application that St. Louis is an awful sports town that "in all likelihood will be unable to sustain three professional sports teams."
Nice. That wasn't exactly what the Rams were saying in 1995 when the city of St. Louis ponied up the bucks to build them a stadium and steal them from Los Angeles.
As for the Raiders, their words haven't gone public yet, probably because they don't say much, they've been mostly just standing on a street corner with their thumb outstretched hoping somebody, anybody, can give them a ride somewhere, anywhere.
Some owners hate the idea of leaving public money on the table in St. Louis while relishing the notion of rewarding a San Diego team that has spent about 14 years and $15 million futilely trying to cut their own stadium deal. Advantage: Chargers.
Other owners love Kroenke's brashness and are skeptical of the Chargers blandness. Advantage: Rams.
Every owner would like to do something to help the Raiders, but everyone knows the Raiders are too dysfunctional to be trusted to come back to Los Angeles by themselves.
Meanwhile, bouncing between the owners like shiny toys are these two stadium ideas in Carson and Inglewood, everyone asking questions about suites and seat licenses, nobody really thinking about traffic.
The only consistent theme in all this backroom lobbying for Los Angeles is the apparent lack of any concern about what is actually good for Los Angeles. What would work best here? Who would be most welcome? What does Los Angeles want?
First, a quick note about what Los Angeles doesn't want. It doesn't want two teams. It doesn't need two teams. This talk about allowing two teams to move here immediately are the ramblings from clueless owners who do not realize that Los Angeles is a big-dog sports town, one team owns Los Angeles' attention in every sport, Lakers big over Clippers, Dodgers big over Angels, somebody has to rule, that's how the Hollywood box-office mentality rolls. If the NFL brings in two teams, one team will immediately become the runt, destined for apathy, set up for failure.
One team, please. But which team?
Most unscientific polls, including one Twitter poll that was actually used in the Rams relocation application, make it clear that the Rams would be the most popular of the three teams. The anecdotal evidence, gathered in places such as the Burbank airport on the Sunday morning of Raiders home games in Oakland, would indicate that the Raiders are still the most embraced team here. But then ask folks from San Clemente to Lake Elsinore and it's all about the Chargers.
In the end, which is thankfully coming soon, the answer is simple. If only the owners would listen. If only the owners truly cared.
Send the Chargers, who will forever only be south Orange County's team, to St. Louis and all that public money.
Send the Raiders, who just don't have the business model to survive here, anywhere that will take them, and lower the relocation fee so they can afford it.
Make the return of pro football here mirror the introduction of pro football here. End this crazy race with the winner of a similar quest 70 years ago. Bring back the only team that has the long history, rich pockets and rich fan base to make it work, a team that also would play in the stadium location that makes the most sense.
Welcome home, now and then and forever, the Los Angeles Rams.