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Wounds Are Slow to Heal for Some Fans

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Nearly five years have passed since the Rams left Orange County, and Linda Moomau still feels pangs of disappointment.

Moomau and others in a group called “Save the Rams” tried to stop the team from moving, but the city of St. Louis showed owner Georgia Frontiere the money--and plans for a new stadium--and the Rams were gone.

“I still think the Rams should never have left,” said Moomau, a Cypress resident. “As a fan, I still feel as though the NFL and the NFL owners sold out on me by letting the team move. They started seeing dollar signs, and that was it.”

The Rams’ success this season has left Moomau and other Orange County football fans with mixed feelings.

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“I’m happy for the players, but I won’t ever be happy for that management team or that owner,” Moomau said. “I’m not getting on the bandwagon. Since the team left, I haven’t paid a whole lot of attention to them. The last few weeks, though, I’ve watched them a little on TV. I’m not pulling for them or against them, and that’s on purpose.”

Scott Ferguson Greene of San Juan Capistrano, another longtime Ram fan, said that because of Frontiere he begrudges the team’s current success.

“What irks Ram fans here now is that she’s taking so much interest in the team since it moved, but she didn’t do anything to promote it when it was here. It seems like a slap in the face to me.”

Chuck Sowers of Anaheim packed away his Ram clothing--shirts, sweaters, jackets and a blanket--when the team moved. He even gave up his personalized license plate, “RAMS ETC.”

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But, Sowers said, “I’m still a fan, even though I’m not a fan of the owner. I still watch them on TV, and I’m glad they’re doing well again. I even put one of my old Ram caps on the other day when I watched the game.”

But a few people haven’t given up hope.

The city of Irvine has been promoting the idea of a stadium at the El Toro Marine Base, and a Los Angeles investment group that includes former USC football star Anthony Davis is interested in putting a team at that site.

San Diego Padre owner John Moores has pitched to the NFL the idea of putting a team back in Anaheim.

Leigh Steinberg, the Newport Beach sports agent who co-chaired the “Save The Rams” effort, said he believes support exists for another NFL team in the county.

“Is there enough interest to sell out a stadium? Absolutely,” Steinberg said. “A bigger question is whether enough corporations would be ready to buy luxury boxes, but I think there are.”

An Irvine-sponsored telephone survey of 500 Orange County residents showed that 79% supported an NFL stadium being built somewhere in the county--just as long as it is with private funds.

“People are always asking me when Orange County is going to get another team,” Steinberg said. “I know I miss it personally. I miss not being able to take my sons to a pro game locally. But while I think there is interest, there’s not interest in having the kind of football experience of the last two teams we’ve had in Los Angeles.”

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But Jack Lindquist, a former president of Disneyland who was also a member of the “Save The Rams” group, said he hasn’t seen a “strong grass-roots movement” to bring a team to Orange County, as there was when the Rams moved from the Coliseum to Anaheim in 1980.

“It would be great to have a team again, but I think the days when the NFL can hold out a carrot and have people coming up with hundreds of millions of dollars are over,” Lindquist said. “I’m not overly optimistic about a team returning to Orange County in the near future.”

Lindquist said his experience with the Rams during the team’s final year in Orange County left a bad taste.

“The thing that made me the saddest was to see one of the proudest franchises in pro football erode into a comedy routine,” Lindquist said. “When we were trying to keep the Rams here, I wanted to keep the franchise, not the ownership.”

The Irvine survey showed support within the Orange County business community, but Stan Oftelie, executive director of the Orange County Business Development Council, says he has seen no clamor for a drive to get a team.

“I haven’t had a lot of interest expressed to me about it,” Oftelie said. “I don’t think any sense of urgency exists. I think the NFL’s desire to have public funds involved has put people off. Getting a pro basketball team here probably would be better for the business community because they play more home games.”

Ralph Clark, who was among the leaders in the movement that brought the Rams south from Los Angeles, regrets that the franchise got away.

“I just wish we could have kept the Rams here with a product the fans could support,” said Clark, a former member of the county’s board of supervisors and former mayor of Anaheim. “It could have been fantastic here if [owner] Carroll Rosenbloom hadn’t died. They would have filled the stadium for every game if they had continued with the kind of team they had when they came.”

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Moomau said she hasn’t given up on the possibility of an existing franchise moving to Orange County.

“But I’m concerned about the position we’re in, and I’m disillusioned with the NFL,” she said. “It seems like they expect one thing on one day and another thing on the next. But I hope we can get another team, either in L.A. or Orange County. I’d prefer Orange County, but I think we would have a lot to do to regain the interest among the fans.”

Moomau said she recently mailed out 475 questionnaires to try to gauge interest. The mailing went to current and former members of the Orange County NFL booster group, as well as various other associates.

Only about 130 responded, an indication, Moomau said, that there is still considerable apathy.

However, there are still plenty of avid NFL fans in Orange County despite the absence of a team.

“I’m sort of enjoying being a free agent,” Richard Hong of Anaheim said. “I can be for any team I want to now. I was a Ram fan for decades, but I can still get my football fix by watching NFL games on TV. We have good college football here that I can watch too.

“It would be nice to have a team in Orange County, but not having a team isn’t going to keep me from watching pro football.”


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