Here in New England we don’t understand the great pain that occurs when a Major League sports franchise relocates. Yes, the Boston Braves left for Milwaukee in 1952 and there still is a small coterie of Braves fans who celebrate their Boston heritage. But most of us don’t even remember the Milwaukee Braves, much less the Boston Braves.
So it’s hard to truly feel the pain of people who suddenly lose a big league team. If you grew up in Baltimore in the fifties and sixties, then Johnny Unitas and the Colts were living room guests every autumn Sunday. And most Colts lived in greater Baltimore and developed countless relationships with the locals. Retired Colts tended to stay in town. Then on March 29, 1984, suddenly, in the dark of night, Colts owner Bob Irsay had 15 moving trucks report to the Colts training facility and pack up all the team’s equipment and material to move it to Indianapolis. The trucks all took different routes to avoid the Maryland State police, as the state legislature had passed an eminent domain law to keep the Colts in Baltimore. But Irsay pulled it off and gave us the Indianapolis Colts that Patriots fans know so well.
Irsay remains reviled in Baltimore, the way Cleveland Browns owner Art Modell was reviled in Cleveland after he moved the Browns to BALTIMORE after the 1995 season. Bill Belichick’s Browns had gone 11-5 and were a playoff team in 1994. The team had a loyal fan base but like Irsay, Modell felt he was getting screwed for lack of a new stadium. So Baltimore, in effect, stole the Browns from Cleveland with the promise of a new stadium. The NFL later placed an expansion “Browns” team in Cleveland that maintained the Browns tradition, as best it could—in a new stadium, of course. But it must have rankled Ohioans to see Baltimore advance to several Super Bowls while the Browns continued to languish. Cleveland’s the only NFL city to never experience Super Bowl mania.
Franchise shifts break hearts and devastate communities. Recall the handwringing when it looked like the Patriots might move to St. Louis in the nineties. To lose a big league team means a city is no longer … Big League! Some moves do hurt more than others. The Dodgers leaving Brooklyn for Los Angeles certainly caused more pain than the Clippers leaving San Diego for Los Angeles.
All of which brings us to an NFL meeting that will occur in Houston on January 12. There is pain on the horizon. There are hearts that will be broken. Los Angeles is going to get an NFL team. Maybe two.
The team(s) will come from either San Diego, St. Louis, or Oakland. Interestingly, the Chargers, Rams, and Raiders all have history in L.A., having played there at different stages of their respective histories. A new stadium in America’s second largest city could mean big bucks to its new tenants, and a two-team scenario could well play out—as in how the Giants and Jets share MetLife Stadium in New Jersey.
Which community would suffer the most pain? Probably Oakland. That gritty city truly identifies with the Raiders. When one hears “Oakland” one thinks “Raiders.” It’s not the same for St. Louis or San Diego. Sadly, Raider fans have been through this before. Owner Al Davis moved the Raiders to L.A. in 1982, only to move them back to Oakland in 1995.
The Rams have only been in St. Louis since they moved there from LOS ANGELES in 1995. So they don’t have the same history or tradition there that the Raiders do in Oakland. (Ironically, L.A. stole the Rams from CLEVELAND in 1946.)
Having spent time in San Diego, I must say that it’s a great place to live, but a relatively lousy sports town. I once went to a Padres/Red Sox game at Petco Park and there were more Boston fans there than San Diego fans. San Diego probably doesn’t deserve an NFL team.
My prediction? The Chargers and Raiders both go to L.A. and St. Louis keeps the Rams. But I’ve been wrong before. Still, for sure there will be broken hearts somewhere on January 13. Pro football is a business, after all.
Come to think of it, before the Boston Braves left town, the Boston Redskins hauled off and moved to Washington, D.C. But nobody much cared in 1937 when the NFL was kind of a bush league.
At least they didn’t move to LOS ANGELES!
How many Most Valuable Player Awards did Babe Ruth win? (Answer follows)
Born Today …
That is to say, sports standouts born on Dec. 17 include former Red Sox and Met pitcher Bob Ojeda (1957) and baseball manager Cal Ripken Sr. (1935).
“If you make every game a life-and-death thing, you’re going to have problems. You’ll be dead a lot.” ~Dean Smith
Babe Ruth was MVP only once, in 1923.
Michael Moffett is a Professor of Sports Management for Plymouth State University and for NHTI-Concord. He recently co-authored the critically-acclaimed and award-winning “FAHIM SPEAKS: A Warrior-Actor’s Odyssey from Afghanistan to Hollywood and Back” (with the Marines)—which is available through Amazon.com. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.