With notable exceptions, like Joe Buck, it seems that many in St. Louis don’t have strong opinions regarding whether the Rams stay or go.
On Saturday night, in what was both the preseason home opener for the Rams and the most important of the three meaningless exhibition games, the fans showed their current feelings — by not showing up.
Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch noted at Twitter that he’s been to every preseason game since the Rams moved from L.A. in 1995, and that Saturday night’s crowd for the game against the Colts was “easily the smallest crowd I’ve seen.” Thomas estimates that 25,000 people were present for the game; he also says that only 37,460 tickets were distributed for the contest.
The local nonchalance comes at a time when politicians are trying to finagle a new stadium for the Rams, presumably in order to avoid being blamed if the Rams return to L.A. If blame is going to come, it may not be from local business leaders; Tim Bryant of the Post-Dispatch reports that plenty of corporate executives declined to comment or failed to respond when asked about their support or lack thereof for the proposed stadium.
Joe Buck hasn’t declined to comment. He recently launched a Twitter tirade against the circumstances, saying the situation would have been “100 percent better” if Shad Khan had been able to purchase the Rams in lieu of Stan Kroenke, who exercised a right of first refusal to make his minority share a majority interest after the passing of Georgia Frontiere — and after Khan had cobbled together a bid that her estate had accepted.
“Kroenke not only has the chance to cash in on L.A., but punch a great city that at one point he seemed to enjoy,” Buck said via Twitter.
Buck’s theory seems to be that the current level of local apathy wasn’t accidental: “Suck the life out of a team, run it down, raise prices, then say it isn’t supported and leave. Great example for the NFL to celebrate JOKE!”
Buck has elaborated, with more than 140-character chunks.
“We’re about to lose the NFL for a second time,” Buck told Joe Strauss of the Post-Dispatch. “I don’t know how the story is going to turn out. There are myriad possibilities. It’s been really quiet from St. Louis’ standpoint, but this ball has been rolling for a long time . . . longer than people realize, longer than I initially realized.”
Buck fears that tires eventually will be rolling, too.
“The way this is going, at some point we’re going to wake up and there are going to be moving vans outside Rams Park,” Buck said.
He believes, via Strauss, that the “fix was already in” when Kroenke bought the team; “I would be hard-pressed to believe that this L.A. plan was dreamed up only when St. Louis wasn’t ready to play ball,” Buck said.
But Buck won’t blame the fans for not currently being willing to watch the team play ball.
“I have a tough time with the notion that fans here don’t support the NFL,” he said. “The team has not performed for a long time now.”
On that point, he’s absolutely right. Since the Greatest Show on Turf went to the Super Bowl for a second time (a loss to the Patriots), the Rams have had one winning season — in 2003. From 2004 through 2014, the Rams went 8-8, 6-10, 8-8, 5-11, 2-14, 1-15, 2-14, 7-8-1, 7-9, and 6-10.
Still, there should be greater engagement in 2015, especially since the Rams are perceived to be ready to make a run at the postseason, with a stellar defense, an improving passing game led by new quarterback Nick Foles, and the possibility of a strong running game led by rookie Todd Gurley. But potential can only do so much when the performance hasn’t been there, and it’s even harder for fans to not emotionally detach when it appears that the franchise already views the fan base as fungible.
At a certain point, not giving a crap anymore becomes a mechanism for avoiding the ultimate disappointment of seeing the relationship end. There’s a good chance that’s one of the main reasons why only 25,000 people showed up last night.