Back Up the Truck, Nothing’s Changed

So the Cleveland Browns become the Baltimore Browns. So what? What’s the big deal?

This never happened before in professional football? Where you been?

It all began 75 years ago when the Decatur, Ill., Staleys became the Chicago Bears. That was 1920. The Portsmouth, Ohio, Spartans became the Detroit Lions.

The Washington Redskins were the Boston Redskins when they won their first league championship in 1936 and played the title game in the Polo Grounds in New York that year because their owner, George Preston Marshall, was in the process of moving the team to Washington. He was angry at the lack of support he got in Boston. Sound familiar? That was 60 years ago. What’s changed?


Teams not only moved, they sometimes tried to split the loyalty, cover two towns at once. The Pittsburgh Steelers merged with the Philadelphia Eagles in 1943 to become the “Steagles.” The next year, they joined with Chicago and became the Card-Pitts.

The Cleveland Rams became the Los Angeles Rams in 1946 and the St. Louis Rams in 1994.

The Kansas City Chiefs were the Dallas Texans. Now, these are not to be confused with the original Dallas Texans. The originals were a nomadic group of happy-go-lucky characters who roamed the professional football trail, dropping their luggage wherever they could collect a crowd and pass a hat.

The original Dallas Texans became the Baltimore Colts. Actually, the Baltimore Colts were a little bit of everything. Originally, they had been the Miami Seahawks who went broke in Miami in 1946 and hit the highway for Baltimore. Even the Dallas Texans’ franchise absorbed by Baltimore in 1953 had originally been the New York Yanks, who had previously been the Boston Yanks.

And then, the Baltimore Colts became the Indianapolis Colts in 1984!

The Phoenix Cardinals were the St. Louis Cardinals who had been the Chicago Cardinals till 1960. They stayed in St. Louis for 28 years, then moved to Arizona.

The San Diego Chargers were the Los Angeles Chargers. The Raiders, like the 1943 Steagles, couldn’t seem to make up their minds where they wanted to drop their hats. They waffled from Oakland to L.A., then back again.

Now, the Browns want to move to Baltimore, the Houston Oilers want to move to Nashville, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers want to move to Orlando, and the Arizona Cardinals will take any direction, including straight up.

The NFL is the only league in history that is double-parked with the motor running. It’s the football version of Nathan Detroit’s “permanent, established, floating crap game.”

That Los Angeles is without a franchise is the joke of the century. You have to think that, if any two things put pro football on the map, it was 1, the signing of Red Grange, “the Galloping Ghost,” in the ‘20s; and 2, the Rams’ move to Los Angeles in the ‘40s.

I mean, what are they going to do with all those “Beat L.A.” banners around the league? Who wants to hold up a “Beat Nashville” sign?

The Left Coast is under-represented. Having franchises in Seattle, San Diego, San Francisco and Oakland and not one in L.A. is like having one in Boston, Newark, Philadelphia and Scranton and not New York.

Franchises pass each other in the night. Teams are like hired guns, available to the highest bidder. They should advertise in the Yellow Pages, “Have Team, Will Travel. Call 1 (800) YUR TEAM.”

It can all trace back to the lawyers. Most things can.

It happened back in 1983 in L.A. when the courts brought back a verdict that the NFL couldn’t block the move of the Raiders from Oakland to the City of the Angels.

No one cheered louder than L.A. at the time but that ruling was to lead to the Southland’s losing all its pro football franchises before the smoke cleared.

The league had sued to enforce its right to dictate the movement of franchises and to block any it deemed unsuitable for the future of the game. It provided that a move required a unanimous vote of the other owners--since amended to require 23 of 30 owners concurring.

The trial in L.A. resulted, not surprisingly, in an ignominious defeat for the league, which not only lost the right to block moves but millions of dollars in damages.

The legal message was clear: “Move at will. If they try to stop you, get a lawyer.” It was not long before the trucks were starting up all over the league and passing each other on the freeways.

A reality the law conveniently overlooks is that a team that posits itself as the Los Angeles Whozits or the Pottstown Parrots or whatever takes on an all-important identification with, not to say, obligation to, the community it attaches to itself.

Teams pay nothing for this right to spray a city logo across their uniforms or helmets or letterheads. There is no plebiscite or referendum giving them that right, or no requirement that they pay for the right.

In fact, quite the opposite. They require the community to pay for the privilege of their company, build them a stadium, put in luxury boxes. They are kind of complicated gigolos.

They also expect the community to buy pennants, pompons, shirts with the team logo on them, jackets, wristwatches, hot dogs, programs, beer and parking, anything that means revenue for these carpet-baggers.

That community identification, that emotional attachment, is as important to them as a football. It’s an essential of sports competition. My-team-can-beat-your-lousy-team kind of thing. Joy in Mudville. We’re No. 1! Hooray for our side! Boola-boola! Hold that line! And all that jazz.

I don’t know when professional businesses, even though they are “teams,” first arrogated the right to represent communities. But I can find no instance when it ever petitioned for, or paid for, or otherwise won the right to do it. Whenever I heard an announcer shout through the PA system “And now! Your Los Angeles Rams!” I always wanted to shout back, “Wait just a minute! Whaddya mean my Los Angeles Rams? I don’t get a penny here!”

They were no more “our” Los Angeles Rams than the New York Giants--they play in New Jersey--are “our” New York Giants.

As you find out when they move to St. Louis.

These birds have got it all wrong. They think they’re doing us a favor when they move a team in here and put our name (and our endorsement tacitly) on the product. They charge us. We should charge them. Or at least hold an election to see if we want them.

If they don’t want that, let them have their Nashville-Orlando Super Bowl some year. And if they keep moving long enough, who knows? Some day they may find themselves back in Decatur.