Spoiler Alert: Some of the content may sound familiar to the very few regular readers I currently possess, but this was an honest attempt to sum up my feelings and thought process in the most efficient and truthful manner possible. Thank you for reading, and thank you for supporting our efforts to Keep the Rams in St. Louis.
Legendary baseball scribe Roger Angell once wrote, when trying to explain the apparent irrationality and naiveté present in the adult sports fan, “And so it seems possible that we have come to a time when it no longer matters so much what the caring is about, how frail or foolish is the object of that concern, as long as the feeling itself can be saved.”
As long as the feeling itself can be saved.
After reading Enos Stanley Kroenke’s relocation proposal, after sitting idly by for over a year as he spun lies and told half truths and painted a picture that can only be observed from a vantage point centered in self-delusion and greed, after listening to him and his henchman disparage my city, my community, the place of my birth and upbringing as if it, and every person in it, is some sort of disloyal malcontent who dare stand up to him for the small crimes of almost never winning football games and telling us all we are too unsuccessful financially to support someone worth $7.7 billion, I am not sure that this feeling can be saved. I am not sure I have the propensity to care anymore. I doubt that this very specific sense of elation that, before this ordeal, I could only receive from the arbitrary flight of a far away ball can ever remain the same.
Whenever I lose my faith, whenever I question a conviction, I go back to its root and examine what made me hold it in the first place. Right now I am thinking back to all of the times that sports have made me happy. David Freese in game 6. The President’s Cup in 2000 (for about a week). The first professional football game in the Edward Jones Dome. The contest that will always represent a seminal moment in my life.
On November 12, 1995, the ST. LOUIS Rams beat the Carolina Panthers 28-17 as I watched the very first NFL game I had ever attended from what was legitimately the stadium’s very last row. I found my team that day. I found my sport. I decided in that moment, in the presence of the greatest athletes in the world, during my first real exposure to a game that was beautiful not only in its brutality, but in the self-sacrifice it required, the manner through which it tested your will, the demands it placed on your soul, that those men on the field were who I wanted to become. That a professional football player was what I wanted to be.
I never played in the NFL, but I will always remember that occasion. It was the first time anything had taken my breath away. It was the first time I can ever remember dreaming about my future. It was the first time I recognized what hard work and dedication and the unrelenting pursuit of excellence could bring into someone’s life. It set the stage for everything that followed: the catch by Proehl, the day I played hooky to attend the Super Bowl Parade and watched as Dick Vermeil extended the Lombardi Trophy out towards the crowd and baptized us all as champions, the vanquished afternoons spent in tiny dorm rooms and depressing Chicago bars as I watched the Rams lose again and again and tried to drink the pain away.
I came back every week, every season, because these moments, even the bad ones, meant something to me. I came back every week, every season, because of that first matchup I witnessed in what was then the TWA Dome, and the way it made me feel. I came back every week, every season, because that is what fans do. We fork over our weekends, our hard-earned cash, our otherwise well preserved sanity for the team that we love. We give everything of ourselves in our nonsensical quest to watch other men win a game because, in our minds, they represent us. We exhibit our propensity to care, to be invested, to allow a team with our city’s name on its chest to truly matter to us. And we do it all knowing that, in the end, the only thing our caring will do is allow already wealthy men to become even more prosperous.
I love football. I fell in love with it when I was 7-years-old. I loved it through the Oklahoma drills in 8th grade, and the scorching hot two-a-days in high school, and the 18 straight losses my teammates and I endured during my time in college. I loved it when Mike Jones made “The Tackle” and I loved it when the Rams finished off that horrendous 5-year stretch at 15-65. I loved it when Georgia Frontiere brought the club to town and I love it now, even as our current owner becomes more and more desperate to play the role of the villain in Major League film franchise and steal the team the away without verbally saying a word to anybody.
Without telling us what's changed. Without telling us why a man from our state, a man who brought football here in 1995, a man who has said things like "I'm a Missouri man," and "people in our state know I can be trusted," and "I'm going to attempt to do everything I can to keep the Rams in St. Louis, just as I did everything that I could to bring the team here in 1995. I believe my actions speak for themselves," is now so frenzied to turn those actions into a backstabbing betrayal of the people who are from where he is from. Without telling us anything other than that, after 20 years of support he didn't earn and emotional connection he did nothing to garner, we are no longer good enough for him. And to send us this message in writing, through his lawyer, without every having to look one person from whose passion he profited so lavishly square in the eyes.
Stan Kroenke is a duplicitous douchebag who has thumbed his nose at each and every rule and regulation that you, his fellow NFL owners, have established to govern franchise relocation and owner conduct. Anyone with eyes and a working brain can discover that. But, as much as I despise him, he is not the problem; he is just a symptom of it. The real issue is not that avarice slime balls like this exist, but that you, his fellow NFL owners, let them in the league’s front door. The real issue is that you, his fellow NFL owners, have traded your principles for money, your values for a higher placement on the Forbes list.
The real issue is that you, his fellow NFL owners, have allowed all of us in St. Louis, San Diego, Oakland and, yes, even Los Angeles to be reduced to nothing more than the number in our bank account, and the ways in which said number can improve your own bottom line.
I began this letter with a quote so I will mercifully end it with the same. Michael Scott once said: “business is always personal. It’s the most personal thing in the world.” I always thought that line was a joke. Then Stan Kroenke tried to pilfer the Rams away and I began to realize how serious those words are. I still care about my team NFL owners, even if my concern now appears as frail and foolish as Roger Angell said it could be. I still care about my team NFL owners, even though so many of you don’t seem to.
I still care about my team NFL owners, because it is the business of caring itself that is important. I still believe that. The day that I no longer do is the day that Stan Kroenke wins.
Thank you for your time and the potential fairness you could show towards my city as this process moves forward. I hope to remain a fan of your league in the future. I also hope, far my effusively, that somewhere along the way you find your ethics and realize what, exactly, it is that you are selling to your customers. Maybe then you can put an end to this sort of exploitation.
Maybe then, and only then, your league can become some semblance of the place that you purport it to be.
Zachary L. Poelker
The Bearded Fellow In That Video I Linked Above