The End of Pro Football in Two American Cities
Two voices. One speaking for San Diego, one for St. Louis, after the final home games for the Chargers and Rams—possibly the last NFL games in both cities. (I will give Oakland the same treatment next week, a few days after the Raiders’ final home game of 2015 on Thursday night.)
I picked Nick Hardwick, the recently retired stalwart Chargers center, to speak for San Diego on the last game in Qualcomm Stadium. And I chose Joe Buck, the lifelong St. Louisan, to stand up for St. Louis—not about what the possible last game there was like, but about why the city should not be viewed as some NFL doormat.
None of us know what NFL owners will do at the Los Angeles relocation meeting Jan. 12 and 13. We figure that San Diego is the leader in the clubhouse to move to Los Angeles in 2016, but there’s no guarantee. Nor do we know if two teams will move. But with the Rams, Chargers and Raiders playing their final home games of 2015 within eight days of each other, I thought it appropriate to hear from a key person in each city on the emotion and the issues in each place.
(A note to watch for next week: The MMQB’s Robert Klemko will have a story from all three places, as each city girds for the possible painful goodbye.)
In their words, here are Hardwick and Buck on what could be the end of pro football in two American cities.
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Former Chargers center. Current sideline reporter, Chargers Radio
Dec. 20: Chargers 30, Dolphins 14, Qualcomm Stadium
Talk about an emotional day. Waking up in the morning, it was like I was playing again. I had that same feeling for the first time since I stopped playing. It’s one thing to go to the stadium to play, and it’s another thing to go and do radio. But for this one … I’m driving to the stadium on Friars Road, and when the stadium comes into view, it hits me like a ton of bricks, like somebody punched me in the gut. This could be it.
In the morning, I got a text from Philip Rivers. He was almost child-like. The text was like, WEEEEEEEEE! He’s always excited on game day, but I think he was highly motivated for this game. I was just hoping the fans would treat it like a celebration of all these years of football, not a negative day. And they were great. For so much of the day, it was like I was in a time machine, going back to 2006, 2007. Festive. I loved it. It was a celebration of all these years of football.
The Chargers really needed to win the game. There was almost a sense of desperation about it—desperation before and during the game, the crowd wanted it so bad. During the games, I’m on the Chargers’ sideline, doing reports, and you could just feel how bad the fans wanted it, and how bad the players wanted it for them. I ended up interviewing Philip on the sidelines afterward. He told me, “My message to the team, just a short thing before we came out for the game: They’ve been playing football games in this town since before any of us were alive. But we get to finish it. We get to potentially play the last one. Let’s do it right.” I thought that was the perfect thing to say. Because really, the guys on this team don’t know the history, and especially the young ones, they don’t know anything about this.
So the day went just about exactly the way you’d want a day like this to go—the fans so into it, the team finally playing well and rising to the occasion. Late in the game, they played a video about Malcom Floyd—the crowd loves him, and he’s retiring at the end of the year—and you could tell how emotional it was for the players and the fans. Everyone loves Malcom. Philip said he could barely get the call out, he was crying so much. The fans were going crazy; they understood the bond. It was emotional for me too. Then there was a point where the three veterans, Philip, Malcom and Antonio [Gates] shook hands with everyone in the huddle and came to the sideline to get a big hand from the crowd. What a moment. I was so emotional; I was crying, and I can imagine how it must have felt for them. So [the producers] wanted to throw to me on the sidelines to do a report.
I said, “Don’t! Please. I’m in shambles.”
The day … it was one of the most memorable moments of my football career—and I didn’t even play.
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FOX NFL play-by-play voice, raised and lives in St. Louis
Dec. 17: Rams 31, Buccaneers 23.
Sometimes I have to ask myself, ‘What hat am I wearing?’ If I’m wearing my FOX hat, I’m impartial, and I stay out of the scrum. Or if I wear my St. Louis hat, I think about what gets lost, and that’s the overall body of work on behalf of St. Louis. In 21 seasons, they’ve been over .500 four times. In the five seasons ending in 2011, they were 15-65. Yet, they sold out every game from when they got there until they started 0-8 in 2007. Frankly, I find it amazing they can get anyone in the door. Consider where they play. The dome is like a warehouse. It was obsolete the day they opened it. It got filled because of guys like Kurt Warner, Marshall Faulk, Isaac Bruce, Torry Holt, Az Hakim, Orlando Pace, Ricky Proehl.
Now you’ve got an owner [Stan Kroenke] doing everything for four years to show his intentions. He does everything but make a public comment for St. Louis. Look at Jerry Jones, the owner of the Cowboys and one of the biggest stars in the league. In this day and age, owners have to talk. When you have an owner who won’t talk … I mean, St. Louis fans aren’t dumb. They’ve seen the writing on the wall. They see he’s got one foot out out the door. They have seen it before. When you are telling the fans you don’t want to be there, while the team is struggling at epic levels … I am surprised anyone walks through the door. They see him act like, Here is my beautiful place in L.A., and I can’t want to leave you.
I started talking about this on Twitter, and it raised some eyebrows, I thought about it from St. Louis’s perspective. It’s not a selfish perspective. Honestly, I thought about it from my Dad’s perspective. The city of St. Louis was something my dad believed in more than he believed in anything in his life. When my dad wanted the new baseball stadium for downtown St. Louis, he was excited for what it would mean for downtown St. Louis. His feeling was, let’s try to revitalize a downtown area that needs help. It’s way bigger than football now, just like it was bigger than baseball. It’s developing events for downtown St. Louis. I’ve seen what a new stadium has done in Indy and Cincinnati. Indy hosted a Super Bowl. If you’re a leader of St. Louis, that should make you salivate.
To say this team’s not been supported, I would turn it around. I would say the team hasn’t deserved it.
I’m not a child. [Kroenke] is one of 32 owners who can, in the words of Jerry Jones, pretty much do what he pleases. He was a part of the effort that got the team to St. Louis.
And I’ve heard people say how hard it’ll be for football to ever flourish in St. Louis. They say it’s a baseball city. Well, when I was a kid at Busch Stadium, you could shoot a cannon through there and hit no one. It can be a football city. Absolutely.
Can the marriage between the owner and the city be repaired? My answer is yes. Fans will welcome Kroenke back into their good graces. He’s a Missouri guy, named after Stan Musial and Enos Slaughter. He’s a decent guy who is a huge sports fan.
What community has built two stadiums in 25 years for the NFL? That’s never happened in the history of the NFL. To say St. Louis doesn’t support the NFL is a dumb, blanket statement, and I call people on it. It’s just not true.
But you know, at the end of the day, the owner has the keys to the Corvette.
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Hearts are broken whenever a team leaves a city. They will be again in January. There’s no way around it. My only question about the team or teams that end up waving the NFL’s banner is this: If two, why two? Why two immediately? The NFL left Los Angeles 21 years ago tomorrow. True fact: The Rams and Raiders played on Christmas Eve 1994 simultaneously, in Anaheim and the L.A. Coliseum, in games that finished eight minutes apart, and there hasn’t been a game in greater Los Angeles since. They left, in part, because of greener pastures and because of relative disinterest. I get one team returning; L.A.’s a gigantic market and should be served by the NFL (though the league hasn’t folded with no franchise there). But two?
I say any decision to put two teams in Los Angeles, before seeing if there’s support for two, will haunt the NFL.
Now for your email:
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COUGHLIN IS ALSO FIGHTING FOR SOMETHING
Sorry, Peter, I have to disagree with your idea that Tom Coughlin should have taken Odell Beckham out of the game Sunday to cool him down. The Giants are fighting for their playoff lives. Coughlin is fighting to keep his job. Most would agree OBJ is a top-five wide receiver in the game today. Taking him out suggests you are giving up on the game, likely the division and would ultimately likely mean Coughlin is done in New York. It's coaching suicide. As it was, the Giants miraculously came back to tie the game, with OBJ getting the tying touchdown. Taking him out would have sent the wrong message to the team.
What do you stand for? What kind of program do you want to have? What kind of team do you want to have? If it meant that your team would go 12-4 and run away with the NFC East, would you like to have a team with multiple people who behave on the field the way that Beckham did on Sunday? I don’t think it is too much to ask of our superstars to play the game without acting like petulant children. Violent, dangerous, petulant children.
YELLOW CARDS FOR THE NFL
Why doesn’t football implement a system similar to the yellow card system in soccer? Get two unnecessary roughness calls in one game and you are automatically ejected from the game. Get a certain number of unnecessary calls over more than one game (three over a five-game period?) and you get suspended for a game. Penalizing cumulative chippiness might actually have some impact on games like Panthers-Giants and would at least give the officials a tool to keep games under control.
—Seth J., Newton, Mass.
I actually love this idea. I really like the card concept in soccer. In fact, I am going to make a note this year at the league meetings to ask some owners and members of the competition committee how they feel about it. Thanks for your email.
DENVER’S SECOND-HALF COLLAPSES
For several games in a row, the Broncos offense has been pretty good in the first half and utterly incompetent in the second half. Is that more likely a Brock Osweiler problem, or a conditioning problem, or a coaching problem?
—Larry, Louisville, Colo.
I would say it is mostly an Osweiler problem. Not to jump on Osweiler, because clearly any player who has to replace Peyton Manning while playing for the first time in his NFL career is going to have a difficult time maintaining consistency at a high level of play. I applaud Osweiler for how he has played overall. It’s not unexpected that Osweiler would be coming up short in the second half three weeks in a row. I just think it is a very hard job and it’s a very difficult thing to do well week after week. Having said that, I think if Peyton Manning proves he can throw the ball and move around better than he did in his last game against Kansas City, then he needs to start playing. And I have no idea if that is going to happen this year or not.
ON TEDDY BRIDGEWATER
Why no mention of Teddy Bridgewater’s accomplishments Sunday? I can understand not having him as one of your offensive stars of the week, but couldn’t Teddy’s five-touchdown day (four passing, one rushing) have at least made your list of things you liked?
It’s a good point. I should have featured Bridgewater in the column. It’s no knock on Bridgewater, who is improving as a player. It is a knock on my ability to see and report on 13 games in a day. That hasn’t changed in the 19 years I have done the column. All I can do is say I will try to give Bridgewater his due when he plays well again.
MUSTARD VS. KETCHUP
The Mustard vs. Ketchup game ruined it for me. I love football. I wanted to watch some Thursday night football, I turn on the game thinking despite the Rams’ and Bucs’ records, this could be an entertaining game… I see those uniforms, and 30 seconds later I turn OFF the TV and leave the room frustrated. These colors are sensory overload, and if I can't recognize the teams (as NFL teams) I walk away. MAKE IT STOP!
I would like to be able to do that. I don’t hate the occasional attempt—and I mean occasional—by the NFL to have a special uniform or two. But so many teams beat us over the head with so many different uniforms that, as I wrote a few weeks ago, it’s like: The NFL doesn’t have uniforms anymore. The NFL has costumes. I’m not saying that every team should only wear one home and one road uniform. But take a team like the Rams. As I wrote last week, in the first 14 weeks of the year they have not worn the same uniform more than twice all season. I’m sure that there are 20 teams you could say the same thing about. I agree with you, the NFL should stop playing around with uniforms.
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