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Orange County Voices : COMMENTARY ON THE RAMS : Letting Team Go Would Be Irreversible Financial, Cultural Loss : The franchise is worth saving and we should fight to keep it, if we want to maintain the county’s big-league status.

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One of the most thrilling memories of my youth was sitting on my father’s lap in the Los Angeles Coliseum watching Ram Jon Arnett run a kickoff back 101 yards for a touchdown. Forty years later, one of the special moments of my adult life was sitting with my very excited 3-year-old son, Matthew, in Anaheim Stadium watching Jerome Bettis run for a long touchdown. Absent quick and dramatic action to keep the Rams from leaving Southern California, moments like these and this area’s professional football heritage will disappear forever.

The Rams have made crystal clear their intention of concluding a deal within the next month to move to St. Louis, Baltimore or Hartford, Conn. You may ask why, as residents of a county devastated by earthquakes, fires and floods, we should care about the fate of a local sports team.

For one thing, we’d lose money: $30 million to $50 million of extra revenue is generated in Orange County by the Rams and their fans each year. Losing this highly identifiable business enterprise would trigger a devastating ripple effect on our economy.

For another thing, our lives would be less interesting.

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Rooting for local teams is a rich source of joy and pleasure for many of us. Sports allows people of disparate racial, economic and occupational background to share a bonding, enriching experience. Our area waited so long and worked so hard to obtain a full complement of professional sports franchises.

An Orange County on the cutting edge of political, cultural and sports activities gives definition to an area that needs to be known as more than “not L.A.” It would represent a step backward to allow a team to leave.

And make no mistake, the loss of the Rams will signal the end of professional football in Orange County. The Rams will proclaim to the nation that they faced a uniquely inhospitable business and political climate in Orange County, that Orange County consumers are horribly non-responsive, and that governmental agencies are intractable in their regulatory zeal.

These messages will resound through the front offices of the National Football League, and will sour the league and team owners on this area. The lack of protest from Fox TV regarding a prospective Rams move indicates network television’s willingness to live without the Rams in the Los Angeles market. Remember, St. Louis, Oakland and Baltimore have never had their lost franchises replaced. In fact, in the last NFL expansion process St. Louis and Baltimore were passed over in favor of smaller markets--Jacksonville, Fla., and Charlotte, N.C. In an expansion, the NFL will simply not look to return to a failed site.

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Moreover, in any effort to woo an existing franchise, Orange County would be competing with municipalities not burdened with our budget and taxation woes. We would be up against municipalities so starved for a professional franchise that they will gladly offer sweetheart stadium deals and upfront multimillion-dollar transfer fees. Orange County would not win those battles.

Most important, fans must realize that, even apart from the the economic and cultural reasons, the Rams are worth saving.

Those who are angry with the Rams because of poor play on the field or a perceived lack of commitment to winning must look past their frustration and realize how quickly this can change.

A new salary cap system in the NFL has imposed minimums and maximums on the amounts teams can spend on their players. It will not be possible for the San Francisco 49ers to far outspend the Rams.

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With economic parity, winners and losers will be distinguished by talent evaluation and player development.

The recent acquisitions of Jerome Bettis via the draft and Chris Miller via free agency bode well for the Rams’ future. With a winning season or two behind her, Georgia Frontiere, whom I know to be a good and warm-spirited woman, would become a popular owner.

The Rams can be successful, and with aggressive marketing a refurbished Anaheim Stadium could be full for autumns to come with boisterous, happy and loyal fans. The presence of The Pond in Anaheim, a refurbished football stadium, a new baseball stadium, the Convention Center, Disneyland and Knott’s Berry Farm, combined with the presence of the Rams, Angels, Mighty Ducks and potentially a new basketball team, would make us one of the most exciting entertainment corridors in the world. It would boost a revitalized Orange County economy.

But only if we fight now to save the Rams.

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Local businessmen, columnists and politicians seem to be fulfilling their own prophecies by predicting the Rams’ departure while cynically ignoring the need to fight for the Rams. The pride they feel in being correct in their prediction could, without rapid and effective action, be outweighed by their guilt from having helped to push the Rams out. We need to act--now. Orange County has an opportunity to display the energy and maturity that will mark its coming of age as a community.


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