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Angry, mournful fans in St. Louis give NFL officials an earful

St. Louis Rams fan Ted Surgant talks to other fans as they wait for the start of a town hall meeting hosted by the NFL to gather comments from football fans on the possible relocation of the St. Louis Rams to Los Angeles.

St. Louis Rams fan Ted Surgant talks to other fans as they wait for the start of a town hall meeting hosted by the NFL to gather comments from football fans on the possible relocation of the St. Louis Rams to Los Angeles.

(Jeff Roberson / Associated Press)

Rams fans filled the Peabody Opera House in downtown St. Louis on Tuesday for the first of NFL three town hall meetings — San Diego and Oakland are next — to voice their concerns about the possibility their team will relocate.

The fans, many wearing Rams jerseys and hats, were cordial and orderly but robust in their support of the franchise, giving a loud standing ovation to Dave Peacock, who heads the city’s stadium task force, and booing every mention of Rams owner Stan Kroenke. There were five metal detectors and an explosive-sniffing dog at the door of the theater.

On stage in director’s chairs were Eric Grubman, the NFL’s executive vice president, and three other league executives: Chris Hardart, vice president of corporate development; Cynthia Hogan, senior vice president of public policy, and league attorney Jay Bauman.

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Rams executive Kevin Demoff made brief introductory comments and received polite applause.

For most of the three hours, the NFL executives listened to the comments and questions but only occasionally answered them.

“If Mr. Kroenke inks a 30-year lease, I guarantee you all of this will go away,” one commenter said. “… Just sign the lease and join the St. Louis family.”

There were lecterns at either side of the stage, and fans introduced themselves before asking a question or making a statement. The questioners were alternately angry and mournful, many speaking with a tremble in their voice.

“If they move, it’s a joke,” another commenter said. “And NFL, you’ve lost one fan that will never come back.”

The Rams are backing a proposed stadium in Inglewood and hope to move back to Los Angeles for the 2016 season.

On the other side of this situation are droves of Los Angeles Rams fans who felt similarly bereft when their team left for St. Louis two decades ago.

Rob Audrain of St. Louis attended Tuesday night’s event wearing a Kurt Warner jersey. He said there was a feeling around St. Louis that the town hall meeting was merely a formality.

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“I know they have to do it in every city and they’re just checking off the boxes,” he said.

Across the aisle sat another fan, Quinton Slay, who was more optimistic about what the meeting could produce.

“I don’t think [the NFL] has decided yet,” said Slay, of St. Louis. “I feel like they’re still trying to make a decision. At least I hope.”

sam.farmer@latimes.com

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