Since I weighed in before the decision was made, I felt it was right to respond now.
Again, I’m going to talk about my personal reaction and the reasons why (in the first two sections below) as well as the implications for football fans more generally.
Saints vs. Rams
I don’t like the Rams. I never have liked the Rams. I don’t feel as negatively toward them as I did between 1988 and 2001 though. 1988 was the first full football season I remember watching, and 2001 was the Saints’ last year in the NFC West, which used to comprise the Saints, Falcons, 49ers, and Rams.
2000 was an especially big year in the rivalry. The Rams and Saints played three times from November 26 to December 30. They split the regular-season matchups, with the road team winning each game. Then the Saints narrowly won in the wild card round of the playoffs, New Orleans’ first playoff win as a franchise.
Even though realignment took place after the following season, there were a lot of feelings that carried over. Cultural and geographic factors also helped intensify the rivalry with the Rams being in St. Louis instead of Los Angeles. New Orleans is the one large primarily Catholic city in the Deep South; but of course Missouri was a border state in Civil War times, and St. Louis has a long Catholic tradition as well. It’s not uncommon for people to travel from one to the other for college, work, and family reasons.
Many Saints fans also have a feeling of rivalry with the Cowboys even though (except for a couple of seasons in the 1960s) the Saints and Cowboys have not been in the same division, so it’s not like realignment necessarily changes everyone’s feelings.
I will say that I disliked the Rams the least among the four NFC West teams before they moved to St. Louis and also in their first couple of years there. The Saints’ #1 enemy has been and still is the Falcons, but the team that kept winning the division in the late 80s and early 90s was the 49ers.
That’s not to say there was no animosity though. The Rams and Saints often vied for a wild card spot in the same seasons. In 1988, for instance, the Saints, Rams, and 49ers all finished 10-6. Due to tie-breakers, the 49ers won the division, the Rams got a wild card spot (of only two that were available), and the Saints stayed home. (San Francisco went on to win the Super Bowl over Cincinnati.)
In 1989, a loss to the 49ers dropped the Saints to 1-4. They would rally to finish 9-7, but again, this was not good enough to get one of the two wild card spots. An overtime loss to the Rams in late November ultimately cost the Saints a playoff spot. The 49ers would return to the Super Bowl as NFC champions after beating the Rams in the championship game.
The Saints again had a rough start in 1990, with Bobby Hebert off of the team. They were only 5-7 going into the last four games, two of which were against the Rams and the other against the 49ers. They won all three of those divisional games, including beating the Rams with a Morten Andersen field goal in the final game. Even though this was the worst New Orleans season since 1986, it was the first year of the six-team playoff, and the Saints made it in as the third wild card.
So when you’re competitive with teams that are playing for and winning conference championships and Super Bowls while you don’t even make the playoffs (partly because you had to play those teams multiple times), that can build up a dislike of those other teams.
Even though the Rams would not make the playoffs again until 1999 (when they won the Super Bowl over Tennessee), it wasn’t like there was no history before that. I remember trying to boycott the Saints when Jim Everett played for them. I could not stand him when he played for the Rams, and I refused to change my mind about him.
More Personal Feelings on the Move
I do feel a little bit bad for the St. Louis area, which has now lost two teams in my memory. I guess the NFL thinks the fans can just distribute themselves to other teams. Of course Los Angeles went as a largely untapped market for over 20 years, so I guess the NFL doesn’t see it as a huge problem.
Maybe one day there can be a gigantic new stadium somewhere between St. Louis and Memphis and everyone in that middle region can have a team to share. Maybe there will be some advance in transportation that allows people to get there at 100 miles per hour. Here is a map of where St. Louis is (the clear star in the middle) relative to the interstate highway system and other NFL teams.
If it had to be one team (although the Chargers may still come later), I was hoping it was going to be an AFC team.
Even though (as I explained in the last blog on this issue) it’s better to be in a secondary market than a primary market, I would have gotten to see the Chiefs, my favorite AFC team, more. I would have seen them play the Chargers or Raiders twice. I may see some of those games still, but if they’re on in the afternoon and the Rams are on in the afternoon, NFL rules prevent another game from being on television at that time.
Also, if the Saints are playing at the same time as the Rams, I won’t see them. If the Saints are playing a day game and Fox doesn’t have a doubleheader, I also will be almost guaranteed not to see the Saints. The only possible exceptions to the latter item are the two times per year that the Saints will host an AFC team (which makes it a CBS game).
As I said last time, the Chargers are the only one of the three applicants I have ever cheered for even a little bit. So not only are the Chargers not the home team now (at least not for the time being), Los Angeles is also no longer a secondary market for them.
Television tends to favor games involving a team’s divisional rivals. I have no interest in seeing the Seahawks or 49ers more often. I’ve never minded the Cardinals (another team that was previously in St. Louis) and actually am hoping they win the NFC in these playoffs, but that’s not much of a comfort. But if they stay good and Patrick Peterson and Tyran Mathieu keep playing for them, maybe they’ll solidify their spot as my #4 team (I also like the Dolphins, not that I’d see them much regardless).
The main positive is I am more likely to see the Saints when they actually play the Rams. You play teams in your conference more than you play the teams from outside of your conference (an average of once every two years vs. an average of once every four years). I might even try to save up and go to a game if the Saints come to town.
Fan Bases and History
The Rams do have a lot more history in Los Angeles than the other two options. The Raiders were only in Los Angeles from 1982 to 1994, although they did get a lot of followers from that time. The Chargers were only in Los Angeles in 1960, but still being in Southern California resulted in them still having a lot of fans that aren’t too far away.
I mentioned last time that a lot of the support for the Rams has dried up, but I also mentioned fans around here can be kind of fickle. I’m sure many of the people who only recently became Chargers fans can now easily become Rams fans. Even longstanding Raiders fans may cheer for the Rams at least when it doesn’t hurt or distract from the Raiders.
I’m not sure about all the people who claim to be fans of the Cowboys, Steelers, Packers, etc.; but it probably depends on whether those teams are any good in a given season. It also helps fans to move away from those teams the more removed they get from their last Super Bowl. (I know the Cowboys were a long time ago, but not as long ago as the last time Los Angeles had an NFL team.)
The NFL left the door open to a second team with the Chargers. With the elimination of the Raiders from consideration though, that avoids the huge headache of sorting out two teams of the same conference in one market, which has never been done before.
I think the Raiders are settled in Northern California, and the Chargers are settled in Southern California. So if the Chargers move, I think their San Diego fans are less likely to give up on them. If they don’t move, they’ll likely still have some fans in the outlying areas of Los Angeles who will support them.
I will be interested to see if support for the Raiders dissipates in Southern California. I think some of the Northern and Eastern parts of the Bay Area would have felt really abandoned by the NFL since the 49ers moved to the suburbs south of San Francisco.