Before the Rams Left St. Louis, Millions of Others Did

AP Photo
The Associated Press

On Tuesday, Stan Kroenke, like so many before him, fled St. Louis.

A century ago, when the United States housed less than a third the number of people, St. Louis boasted a population more than double its current size. A city that famously hosted the Olympics and the World’s Fair now ranks as the murder capital of the United States. It’s strangely first in sexually transmitted diseases but last in population growth among big cities.

Why on earth would the once Greatest Show on Turf leave all that for greener paper pastures out West?

Missouri Governor Jay Nixon complains that the NFL misled the people of St. Louis. But he misleads in using the wrong being verb when he insists that “St. Louis is a world-class city” in the statement he released.

Perhaps all this ignores St. Louis’s many charms. Washington University stands architecturally as one of the most beautiful campuses in the United States. The people exhibit Midwestern decency. It remains the best baseball city in America. The riverfront, Union Station, and Anheuser-Busch’s brewery all rank as must-sees. What city boasts something as unique on the outside, and wondrous on the inside, as the Gateway Arch?

But when riots erupt and crime explodes, people naturally escape. Stan Kroenke followed the lead of millions of others who once called St. Louis home. This remains the elephant in the room that local politicians don’t want to address. When “hands up, don’t shoot” becomes the crowd mantra, and not D-fense or some other catchy chant, the performers that attract crowds may begin to believe they run with the wrong crowd.

This reality doesn’t mitigate the pain the locals feel. NFL teams work as rallying points for communities to unite. Even franchise names—the Steelers, the Packers, the 49ers—often advertise the localities in which they compete. So any man that plucks that from a community can’t help but come across like that cultist maniac in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom who plucks the hearts out of his victims (I speak not of Shorty).

Other cities feel St. Louis’ pain, including, conspicuously, Los Angeles, which lost the Rams to St. Louis not long ago. Cleveland Brown, whose grandfather, father, and son shared a name and a heritage in Northeast Ohio, defiantly insisted in the mid-1990s that wherever Art Modell went with his Cleveland Browns his family of Cleveland Browns would remain in the Buckeye State. Even after an expansion Browns returned to Cleveland, a fan traveled to a cemetary in Maryland to urinate on Art Modell’s grave. One supposes even in Cleveland memories don’t last so long as to inspire mingent vigilantism against the Rams from departing for Los Angeles after World War II. In 1984, the late Baltimore superfan “Loudy” Loudenslager plaintively—not a word normally associated with the screaming football fanatic—showed up to Memorial Stadium on opening day when the Colts kicked off in Indianapolis against the New York Jets. The Baltimore Colts Marching Band played on, as bands are wont to do, even as their team did not—as least not in the Charm City.

In 1984, Robert Irsay used Mayflower trucks to move the Colts in the middle of the night. In 2016, Stan Kroenke absconded from St. Louis with the Rams as the country fixated on the president’s final State of the Union address. Jeff Fisher would call this a misdirection play.

But St. Louis has grown accustomed to people leaving. It lost the Browns, Hawks, and Cardinals before it lost the Rams. Hernando de Soto departed without the Spaniards returning. The Santa Fe Trail, of course, generally ran one way from St. Louis. Yogi Berra, Betty Grable, Maya Angelou, and T.S. Eliot, despite maintaining, “I consider myself fortunate to have been born here, rather than in Boston, or New York, or London,” got out. Clark Griswold escaped—yes, that was St. Louis and not East St. Louis—but not without his hubcaps.

The city prides itself on people passing through. Pioneers came to St. Louis for the sole purpose of trekking toward the Pacific. It calls itself, after all, the Gateway City to the West. And on Tuesday, a city failing to live up to its rich history sadly embodied that historical moniker once again.