The NFL Returns to L.A.
As triumphant Rams owner Stan Kroenke and Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, one of Kroenke’s biggest champions in the long, slow slog to a new NFL reality, celebrated quietly at trendy Houston restaurant Vallone’s near midnight Tuesday, they had to be thinking, “How exactly did this happen?”
And as disappointed San Diego owner Dean Spanos dined privately back at the hotel where NFL owners voted to change the history of football in Los Angeles, he had to be thinking, “How exactly did this happen?”
Noted Los Angeles Times NFL scribe Sam Farmer kept repeating throughout the process of returning pro football to Los Angeles after a 21-year absence: “Anyone who tells you he knows what’s going to happen in L.A. is lying, because the owners don’t even know.” That continued into Tuesday morning at the nondescript Westin Memorial City Hotel in Houston, where the six-owner committee charged with finding the best NFL option for Los Angeles voted 5-1 in favor of building a new stadium complex in suburban Carson, anchored by the Chargers. Within hours, the NFL owner membership, voting by secret ballot (that was important), rebuked the L.A. committee by voting 20-12 and then 21-11 for the Inglewood project.
The Rams are scheduled to begin play—with or without another team as a tenant—in the 70,240-seat stadium and $2.6 billion complex in Inglewood in 2019.
“It was unbelievable,” Jones said. “I’ve never been in a meeting where that many people voted for what the committee didn’t want.”
So why the switch? Two things. “The key was changing from public to secret ballots,” said one NFL source. “The reversal of support [from Carson to Inglewood] from what Dean expected shocked him. And absolutely the 21 votes for Inglewood was a shock.” Conversely, the lack of support for Carson once the ballots went secret was very surprising. The Carson support evaporated in a flash, which few people in Houston saw coming.
The switch came about, another high-ranking club source said, because of the quality of Kroenke’s proposal for a 298-acre stadium site and its amenities. One high-ranking club executive said the inclusion of a new campus for NFL media—NFL Network, NFL digital ventures and NFL.com, including a theater for premieres of NFL-produced programming and documentaries and films—was a big factor in swaying so many owners to the Kroenke side.
“The surprise of the day was getting the 21 votes right off the bat,” the high-ranking club source said. “That set the tone. This is the league’s biggest asset, and it’s significant that they awarded it to Stan. They trust him.”
So this is the way the vote happened, and how the three tenuous teams stand today:
The Rams: Owners eventually voted 30-2 for Kroenke to move to Inglewood and shepherd the NFL back to Los Angeles for the first time since 1994. Owners, in addition, gave the Chargers until January 2017 to make a deal to move to Inglewood with Kroenke. The Rams will play in the Los Angeles Coliseum for either two or three seasons, beginning in August, while the Inglewood stadium is being built. St Louis, meanwhile, bitterly accepted the NFL decision and prepared to move forward without a team. “This sets a terrible precedent not only for St. Louis but for all communities that have loyally supported their NFL franchises,” said Missouri governor Jay Nixon.
The Chargers: For a decade Chargers brass felt frustrated that it couldn't get a deal done in San Diego. The NFL has given Spanos and the city a year and one final chance to get a new stadium arranged—or to join Kroenke in Inglewood in a facility financed entirely by Kroenke. There were indications that Spanos, who seems to be done with San Diego, will move to strike a deal in Inglewood within a month or two, though it’s certainly not his first preference.
The Raiders: “We’ll be working really hard to find us a home,” owner Mark Davis said in a statement Tuesday night. “We’ll get it right.” How, exactly? The Raiders will almost certainly return to the O.co Coliseum for the 2016 season while Davis considers his options, which are bleak. He has no stadium lease. (The one at the Coliseum just expired, and he likely would have to go year-to-year there now.) The Raiders will have the option to join the Rams in a year if Spanos doesn’t get the deal done in that time, but it is a long shot to think the Kroenke stadium would ever be an option for Davis. The Raiders’ future, aided by a $100 million check from the NFL in the effort to get an Oakland stadium done, would be best spent in Northern California, with a second owner helping Davis get a good deal.
As far as NFL alignment goes, the Rams’ move makes make great geographical sense. The NFC West will now presumably comprise Seattle, San Francisco, Arizona and the Los Angeles Rams, a perfect top-to-bottom West Coast (and slightly inland) group. If the Chargers move, the AFC West would consist of Oakland (for now), Denver, Kansas City and the Los Angeles Chargers. The franchises, they are a-changin’.
The folks in Missouri won’t appreciate that, when the vote was over Tuesday evening, the membership gave Kroenke—a silent partner for the most part, the NFL’s Howard Hughes owner—a warm ovation. That’s stunning in itself, because of the fractious nature of the multiyear relocation process and the enmity Kroenke engendered among some owners who felt St. Louis was a perfectly fine market willing to bend over backwards to keep its NFL franchise.
“Stan is a tremendous asset to the NFL,” Jones said after the vote. “I don't think there was anything short about Carson. There was everything long about Inglewood. The best thing we could have done was have Stan Kroenke lead the Rams back to Los Angeles, with absolutely the greatest plan that has ever been conceived in sports as far as how to put the show on.”
To the victors go the NFL franchise. The bitter taste won’t soon leave the mouths of Rams fans in St. Louis. And, possibly soon, San Diego.
Now for your email...
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OPEN LETTER TO OWNERS
Your open letter on Tuesday should have included owners and coaches. Until they take control of their teams, behavior like this will continue. Heck, even Mike Tomlin should be suspended and reprimanded. One of his own coaches, Joey Porter, is out on the field, disrespecting the players and the coaching profession. Why not a three-game suspension for him?
Good points that you make. I understand those who have made the point that, in my Tuesday column, I shouldn’t have singled out players; I should have added every layer of the NFL. I can’t argue with that. My point was that I wanted to appeal to the players themselves. There is a segment of players who believe that so much of what happens on the field during games comes down to their own behavior, not the behavior of those who coach and control the players. And I do believe that no matter how angry a player gets in the course of a game, he knows that his opponents and everyone else on the field are partners in this great entity known as professional football. Don’t misunderstand me: I don’t mean that a guy on the Bengals should love a guy on the Steelers necessarily. What I mean is that, as a member of the Bengals, he should do everything in his power to try to beat the Steelers, He should work out hard in the offseason, he should study his opponent on the other side of the line, and he should devote himself to being better. But in all walks of life, you can devote yourself to excellence while still maintaining your dignity and a goodness of spirit. I saw very little of that on the field most of Saturday night. In my opinion it is essential for the future of football that this changes.
NFL FOLLOWS NCAA LEAD?
Peter, thanks for your open letter to NFL players. It make me think, will the NFL ever adopt a variation of the NCAA’s targeting rule, where players are ejected for such hits as Burfict’s? This is not to say the NCAA rule is perfect, but it at least has immediate consequence of an ejection for the player who delivered the helmet-to-helmet hit. Thoughts?
I think the intent of the targeting rule is good and a smart way for the NCAA to respond to what is a consistently dangerous problem in football at all levels. I don’t think, however, that I favor ejection for a defensive player hitting an offensive player with the crown of his helmet or hitting a defenseless player with a forearm or shoulder. The part of this rule that I view as particularly problematic is when a defensive player and an offensive player are about to collide and the offensive player adjusts his body right before impact, and the defensive player inadvertently delivers a head shot. That is pretty tough. I’m not saying it shouldn’t be a penalty, but to eject a guy if a receiver ducks into a hit is not something I would like to see in the NFL. I understand penalizing a defensive player for that because a defensive player has to be ultimately responsible for where he hits an opponent. But ejection? Too much I think.
AGGRAVATED PERSONAL FOUL
On the field, I would propose adding an “aggravated personal foul” for instances when a player appears to intentionally harm, or attempt to harm, another player. The yardage would remain the same, the player would be ejected, sit the following game and be fined a predetermined amount. Additional offenses would have a steeper cost, and at some point the player is banned from the NFL.
I think that is a great idea. I am in favor of some sort of flagrant foul system in the NFL. It has been suggested that, as in soccer, a system of yellow and red cards be used. That would be one way to do it that would be fine with me. Burfict’s hit on Antonio Brown the other night would absolutely have been a red-card foul. Burfict’s hit on Baltimore tight end Maxx Williams would have been a red card. However it’s done, those hits have to be taken out of the game, or years down the road there won’t be a game to play.
Not sure how you praise Ryan Shazier after his hit that knocked out Gio Bernard. Also not sure why it wasn’t flagged. Regardless if he was a defenseless receiver, Shazier lowered his head and delivered a blow with the crown of his helmet, which is against NFL rules and should have been penalized. But instead he got credited with a turnover for an illegal and concussion-inducing hit. My son plays football, and the coaches work very hard to teach players to keep their heads up. They bench any kid who leads with his helmet like Shazier did. To see professionals blithely disregarding this simple safety rule, and being rewarded for it, sends a mixed message.
I agree with you. And in the rush of doing my column on Monday, I should have given Shazier’s hit on Bernard a second and third look. Many of you have wondered how I could give Shazier the defensive player of the week in my column. I’m really not judging the ethics of how a guy played when I make those decisions. I am judging his overall performance. Thirteen tackles, his play-making all over the field and the strip of Jeremy Hill in the last two minutes that led to the winning field goal. If I had to do it over again, I would have named him defensive player of the week but pointed out that helmet-crown hits can’t be a part of the game. Thank you for your note.
SUPER BOWL I NOT THAT DIFFERENT
I enjoyed your open letter. However, one point to consider: Super Bowl I featured Fred Williamson threatening to knock out anyone he could tackle before the game started, and Packers players laughing on the sideline when Williamson himself got concussed. Not a great look. It’s my opinion that football has always been this way, but now we see everything and we’re not in the market for myths anymore.
—Doug Farrar, SI.com
That probably goes to show you how much the game has changed in 49 years, Doug. You are right: Not everything about that first Super Bowl is so wonderful to hold up as a model for future players.
REFEREEING A RIVALRY
A story I feel has been underreported in the aftermath of the Bengals-Steelers game is the fact that the game was officiated by John Parry and his crew, who struggled mightily to keep both teams under control during their Week 14 regular-season game. Knowing this, why wouldn't the NFL have assigned one of the other crews to work this game, looking at Parry and his crew's past history with this rivalry? And in light of this crew once again struggling to keep players under control, should the NFL use better judgment when determining its officiating assignments?
—Justin, Columbus, Ohio
First, some clarification: In the playoffs, referees work with a different crew. The NFL uses “all-star” crews for playoff games, using the top-rated officials from the 17 regular-season crews. In this particular case, only one of the seven other officials on Parry’s crew (umpire Mark Pellis) was the same as the Week 14 crew. The vital official on Saturday night, field judge Buddy Horton, was not a regular Parry crew member. He is the official who called the foul on Adam Jones that moved the field-goal distance for Pittsburgh in the final seconds from 50 to 35 yards. Having said that, I agree with you that it would have been smarter to get another referee on that game.
NOT A GOAT
Blair Walsh as goat? Really? He was the ONLY reason the Vikings had a chance to win. Make Adrian (fumble man) Peterson and the non-existent offense the goat of the week. Any kind of output on their side and the Vikings are in the next round.
—Mike H., De Pere, Wisc.
Sorry. Anyone who misses a 27-yard field goal for the win in the final seconds is a goat, regardless of what transpired in the first 59 minutes.
WHERE ARE THE PSI NUMBERS?
Have there been any updates or developments with the game balls that the NFL has been testing throughout the season? Is the NFL potentially keeping the data a secret to limit their exposure with the ongoing “Deflategate” saga?
I believe the answer to your last question is yes. If the NFL wasn’t concerned about what the numbers might say about the ideal gas law and the effect of it on the inflation levels of football in different kinds of weather, we would be hearing the results of those measurements. I have said from the start that the NFL absolutely, positively, should release numbers and should have measured the footballs pregame and halftime in all 267 games in this regular season and postseason. But it is clear that releasing those numbers would possibly harm the NFL’s case against Tom Brady and the Patriots, and so that is the last thing they would consider doing. I believe the truth is more important than a lawsuit. But that’s just me.
WHY LOCKETT OVER GURLEY?
Was interested to hear why you voted for Tyler Lockett as your Offensive Rookie of the Year. He made more of an impact as a receiver late in the season but made his biggest impact this year on special teams rather than on offense. In contrast, Todd Gurley missed the first couple of games but still rushed for over 1,100 yards. No question Lockett had a great rookie season, but what made it more impressive on offense for you than Gurley, Jameis Winston or even someone like David Johnson?
The way I looked at this award was a bit of an editorial comment on the awards process in general. Tyler Lockett essentially became for the Seahawks everything and a little more that they had hoped Percy Harvin would become three years ago. Lockett was second on the team in receptions and receiving touchdowns, and returned a punt and a kickoff for touchdowns while becoming, in my opinion, the most dangerous return man in football as a rookie. And so I realize that technically there is a spot on the All-Pro team for a return specialist. And I put Tyler Lockett there. But I also felt that his dangerous presence in so many aspects of Seattle’s offense and special teams deserved to be recognized. Two other points. Lockett played in all 16 games for the Seahawks. Gurley played in 13. Actually, he barely played in one of those games, against Pittsburgh in Week 3, and so technically he played about 12-and-a-quarter games. Lockett’s being on the field a lot more than Gurley factored into my thinking. And the fact that the Associated Press does not have a special teams rookie of the year, and I’m not necessarily advocating that there should be such a thing, means that when I consider Lockett scoring touchdowns in the return game, I put those on the offensive ledger.
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