In St. Louis, NFL fans now root for the Rams to fall on their faces
The Rams opened their season more than 2,000 miles away from St. Louis on Monday night.
For most of St. Louis’ football fans, the game probably felt even farther away.
“I think they’re going to watch them just to want to see them fail,” said Rafer Weigel, an evening news anchor for Fox2 in St. Louis. “And they expect for the team to be bad this year. They’re actually going to have some joy, some people, in watching them lose.
“Which seems a little sad, but people are angry.”
It has been eight months since the Rams announced their return to Los Angeles, and the pain still lingers in St. Louis. The Rams played in St. Louis from 1995 to 2015, and captured the city’s undying allegiance with a Super Bowl championship in 1999.
Now the city’s football fans will watch their team — or rather their former team — play under Los Angeles’ brighter lights. This fanatical baseball town has now lost two NFL franchises, the Cardinals to Arizona in 1988 and the Rams. Weigel has seen most fans gravitate to the Kansas City Chiefs. A small handful decided to remain loyal to the Rams.
The prevailing approach has been to root for whatever team the Rams are playing.
“I definitely feel betrayed,” 66-year-old Buzz Webb told the Associated Press. “Whoever is playing them, I’ll root for that team. I still love the Rams players that were here, but the Rams as a whole — long gone to me.”
In August, St. Louis’ Hotshots Sports Bar announced its #SlamTheRams promotion. The premise is simple: Every time a team scores a touchdown against the Rams, customers get $1 off pitchers of domestic beer.
“#SlamTheRams with us all football season,” the bar wrote in its Twitter announcement. “When they lose, you win!”
By Weigel’s estimation, those at Hotshots are hardly alone.
“The city’s bitter over it,” Weigel said. “And the way they’ve dealt with that bitterness is just to channel their hatred for [Rams owner] Stan Kroenke.”
On Saturday, about 150 people showed up at a “Turn or Burn” event in Oakville, which is part of St. Louis County. Fans had a choice to either burn their Rams gear or donate it, and the Associated Press reported that most chose to donate. It was also reported that fans jumped at the opportunity to shoot paintballs at a poster of Kroenke.
“I don’t know if people hate the Rams so much,” 70-year-old Bob Eckelkamp, who helped coordinate the event, told the Associated Press. “They mostly hate Kroenke.”
At Fox2, which used to air Rams game, Weigel has seen the sports department cater to the city’s mood by focusing on the negative stories surrounding the team. He said the fights during exhibition games at the Coliseum were a point of emphasis, and that fans are finding solace in the development of a particular rookie.
“They’re delighting in Jared Goff being inactive,” Weigel said. “I know they’re loving that, the fact that the first-round pick isn’t even playing.”
As the NFL season progresses, Fox2 will work to fill the void left by the Rams’ departure. It tested out the Chicago Bears-Houston Texans game Sunday — trying to tap into the city’s Chicago transplants — but didn’t have any luck. Then it aired the Dallas Cowboys-New York Giants game at 4 p.m. and saw a spike in viewers.
Football fans still exist in St. Louis. They’re just still figuring out where their allegiances lie.
“Once baseball is over, we’re going to have to figure things out,” Weigel said. “At that point it’s going to be all about the Blues.”
The city’s hockey team … and the sadness that comes with losing its professional football team.
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