Rams returning to L.A. is not super farfetched

When Broncos running back Knowshon Moreno and his teammates take the field at MetLife Stadium in Super Bowl XLVIII against the Seahawks, it will mark another championship game when L.A. has no team in the NFL.
(Mark Humphrey / AP)

For the last 19 years, for many Southland football fans, Super Bowl Sunday has also been Super Strange Sunday.

It is the one day of the year, maybe the only day of the year, when it feels truly odd and isolating that Los Angeles does not have an NFL team.

It can be disenchanting to watch America’s biggest sporting event while realizing that America’s second-largest city, your city, doesn’t have a chance to be in that game. None of the Denver Broncos or Seattle Seahawks ever played for your pro team, or played against your pro team, or even played a pro game in your city. On this closest thing to a national sports holiday, sometimes it feels like Los Angeles is a different country.

One can watch the World Series and say, “If the Dodgers get out of that third inning in St. Louis, they are there.” One can watch this Super Bowl and say, well, what? It may be America’s game, but it’s not quite Los Angeles’ game, which makes the timing of this week’s hot real estate scoop exquisite.

In a story by The Times’ Sam Farmer, it was revealed that Stan Kroenke, owner of the St. Louis Rams, has quietly purchased 60 acres of parking lot between the Forum and Hollywood Park. It is a small spot for a stadium, but a legitimate and already NFL-endorsed spot for a stadium, with surrounding areas available for further purchase.


While most reports involving the NFL’s potential return to Los Angeles over the last 19 years have been a bunch of hooey, there is one obvious reason that this one actually feels real. After nearly two decades of reading about Los Angeles rich guys courting NFL rich guys, this is the first time that a current NFL owner has actually made a real investment in courting us.

This is not Phil Anschutz or Ed Roski wrapping a stadium proposal in roses and delivering it to an owner’s door. This is not some politician flying to New York to decorate the league office with Hollywood brochures and surf reports.

The motto on luring a team to Los Angeles has always been taken straight from the movies: “If you build it, they will come.” Well, guess what. This is a guy who is coming before it is built, and acting like he could build it himself.

Kroenke won’t comment on the report, but his intentions seem clear. He bought the property under the name of a corporation created specifically for that purchase, and while he tried to keep everyone else in the dark, he told the league he was buying the land.

Certainly, one could be excused for immediately thinking this is a leverage ploy for Kroenke to get a better stadium deal in St. Louis. In fact, Los Angeles has spent the last 19 years as nothing but a league leverage ploy. Jim Irsay, owner of the Indianapolis Colts, once parked his horseshoe-adorned plane in a Van Nuys airport for several weeks while he was negotiating a new stadium deal. The Chargers actually held training camp in Carson during some tenuous moments with government officials in San Diego.

But no NFL owner has yet stomped a footprint like this, using real money — $90 million by some estimates — to purchase a real spot for an NFL stadium. Kroenke’s spot is not only real, but it’s already been basically approved by the NFL. Remember, Al Davis was literally moments from closing a deal to build a stadium at Hollywood Park before he dragged the Raiders out of town.

Kroenke, a billionaire, also gains credibility by owning a current stadium lease that can end within a year without legal ramifications, by playing in a St. Louis market that ranks in the bottom four in league attendance, and by having enough money to bring a team here without the government support that Los Angeles will smartly withhold.

Finally, and everyone here already knows this, is there any other current team that would be welcomed back here with greater excitement than the Rams? With all due respect to the huge number of Raiders fans who still fill those autumn Sunday morningSouthwest flights from Burbank to Oakland, Los Angeles was a Rams town for 33 years and could quickly become one again.

The facts are timeworn, but worth a quick retelling. The Rams brought Los Angeles its first professional sports championship in 1951 by defeating the Cleveland Browns, 24-17, at the Coliseum in the first professional football game televised nationwide. Fielding teams with flashy quarterbacks like Roman Gabriel and defense like “the Fearsome Foursome,” the Rams continued to be the toast of Hollywood until they foolishly departed for Anaheim after the 1979 season.

More than any other current NFL franchise, the Rams would be the perfect fit here, and every NFL owner knows it. Of course, every Los Angeles pro football fan knows the roadblocks faced by the Rams, because we’ve heard it all before.

Can they meet league relocation guidelines that include good-faith negotiations with St. Louis? Could they deal with potential LAX flight path restrictions, with environmental issues, with parking and traffic problems?

The bottom line is, even if Kroenke wanted to move the Rams back to the home they never should have left, would the NFL approve it? Well, if you believe those papers on those 60 acres in Inglewood, he’s already started to move them.

While the Broncos should beat the Seahawks by two touchdowns Sunday, predicting the future of football in Los Angeles is much more difficult. But at least it’s a game again.