The owner stole the team clear away from the city, cooly and coldly, like Willie Sutton taking a few thousand dollars off the hands of a local bank. He found paradise where so many others had before him: Los Angeles — where the sun shines most every day, where nobody owns a shovel, where untold riches awaited him among the beautiful people.
And the town he left behind … it never forgot.
And it never forgave.
And the anger persists. The fury foments. Say the owner’s name anywhere within the city limits, be prepared to wipe the angry spittle off your brow.
Sound familiar, does it?
We’re not talking about Walter O’Malley and Brooklyn (although we could be talking about Walter O’Malley and Brooklyn). We are talking about Stan Kroenke and St. Louis. And if you think it impossible to believe that the well-mannered, polite gatekeepers of the Gateway Arch can’t channel their inner Sonny Corleone the way old-school Brooklynites can, well …
“The three biggest sports in St. Louis are the Cardinals, the Blues and Kroenke hating,” says Bernie Miklasz, who has been the leading voice of all things St. Louis since arriving at the Post-Dispatch newspaper in 1985, and who now hosts a daily talk show on KNWS radio and writes a column for scoopswithdannymac.com.
“It borders on obsession with a lot of people here, and sometimes beyond obsession. It’s almost become a weird loyalty oath of sorts. Around here if you don’t hate the Rams, then you don’t love St. Louis.”
Now, on the one hand, you can understand the betrayal. Kroenke, after all, was one of them — a native of Mora, Mo., and a graduate of the University of Missouri — who was one of the prime reasons the Rams moved to St. Louis in 1995 after he purchased 30 percent of the team. And the Rams became an immediate bonanza in St. Louis, building a dynamic team. They won Super Bowl XXXIV in January 2000. Their new home, born the Trans World Dome, was an instant ATM machine and sparked stadium construction around the league.
It became easy, in St. Louis anyway, to forget that the Rams began their existence in Cleveland, moved to L.A. in 1946 to escape the Browns (after winning the 1945 NFL championship, no less, becoming the first — and still only — defending champ to bail on its city), moved to Anaheim in 1980, then moved again to St. Louis.
But St. Louis adopted the Rams completely, filling the void left when the Cardinals had moved to Phoenix eight years earlier. It may be a baseball town, but the Rams became every bit as entwined in the civic fabric. So when Kroenke and the NFL engineered the move west in 2016 — which wound up costing Kroenke $790 million to settle a lawsuit with the city — the perfidy was visceral. And remains so.
“You can’t talk about football now without it always coming back to the Rams,” Miklasz says. “And look, make no mistake, Stan Kreonke is a bad guy. What he did, the duplicity, was horrible, and he paid a rich price for that. But now if fans here see Isaac Bruce or Torry Holt on the field in L.A. — and they deserve to do that, it’s their franchise! — they go crazy.”
“I try to tell people, ‘If you allow Stan Kroenke to live rent-free in your brain like that, then he wins.’ Of course when you say that here, then people start to question your loyalty. It’s nuts.”
Miklasz understands, too. He was born in Baltimore, and his family was one of the original season-ticket holders of the Colts. It still hurts his soul to know they play their games in Indiana now. But he’s moved on.
Some never do, of course. Till the day both men died, a couple of former legendary Post writers, Jack Newfield and Pete Hamill, told the story of a night in a saloon when someone told them to write on cocktail napkins the three worst human beings ever born. And both men, sons of Brooklyn, wrote the same three names in the same order: 1. Hitler; 2. Stalin; 3. O’Malley.
Some grudges take longer to dissolve than others. There was plenty of social media giggling Sunday from St. Louis fans delighting in all the 49ers fans who invaded SoFi Stadium for the NFC Championship game. Of course, by game’s end, most of their moods had soured. Sort of like how Brooklyn Dodgers fans probably felt in 1959. And 1963. And 1965. And, for the ones who remain, 2020.
“You have to tiptoe around it here,” Miklasz says. “The venom is real.”