I started this off with a couple of observations after watching the Jeff Fisher interview after a welcoming party for the Rams. I eventually got around to adding some other topics based on my knowledge of the NFL in the 1990s and since, including some of the major figures around both Fisher, the Rams organization, and relocation.
Jeff Fisher is from the Los Angeles area and actually coached the Rams as a defensive coordinator in 1991. After the Rams fell from 11-5 with a conference championship appearance in 1989 to 5-11 in 1990, Fisher’s hiring was directly overseen by the late owner Georgia Frontiere, and he was actually supposed to be the heir to John Robinson. However, rather than turning things around, the Rams got even worse, going just 3-13.
Robinson resigned, and Fisher was not retained by the new head coach Chuck Knox, the last to coach the Rams in Southern California (Knox also coached the Rams from 1973 to 1977 when they were actually in Los Angeles).
This page chronicles Fisher’s experience with the Rams during the 1991 season and in the immediate aftermath:
After Knox also failed to turn things around (his best season was 6-10 in 1992), Frontiere would orchestrate the move to St. Louis, the city of her birth.
I had forgotten that Fisher was also the coach of the Oilers when they went through the relocation process (They initially moved to the Liberty Bowl in Memphis as a temporary location, but there was little local fan interest since they knew the Oilers would not be their team). He had taken Jack Pardee’s place as head coach during the 1994 season (he was retained despite a 1-5 record after Pardee had started 1-9) and moved with the team after the 1996 season.
To give some additional perspective to how long ago this was, when Fisher took the defensive coordinator job in Houston, he replaced Buddy Ryan, famous for coaching the great Bears defense 30 years ago (he also happens to be the father of Rex and Rob if you were wondering). Coincidentally, Fisher had played for Ryan in Chicago and worked as his assistant in Philadelphia.
I have another blog planned where I modify my position on realignment given the NFL’s relocation approval for the Rams (effective immediately) and the Chargers (which is undetermined and may not take place at all).
In looking at the map, I thought it was interesting that both the Rams and the Oilers (now Titans) moved to the same basic part of the country. More on that in a moment.
Fisher coached in that area 19 of the past 20 seasons (he did not coach in 2011), so he expressed some mixed feelings about the move. I thought it was decent of him to mention in local press conferences the fans that the team is leaving behind and how they got to enjoy two NFC Championships and a Super Bowl win.
The Rams’ 1999 Super Bowl (January 2000) win was over Jeff Fisher’s Titans.
The Rams made two other Super Bowls in franchise history: Super Bowl XIV in January 1980 when they lost to the Steelers (after what would be their last year in Los Angeles proper) and Super Bowl XXXVI in January 2002 when they lost to the Patriots (in the Patriots’ first Super Bowl win). The Rams last made the playoffs in 2004.
Between the Ohio River and the southern edge of the Florida panhandle and between the eastern border of Texas and the Atlantic Ocean, there was previously only one team, the Atlanta Falcons. So all of a sudden there were two teams between Kansas City and Atlanta in roughly neighboring fan areas.
I’m curious about how this played into fan support, financing, etc. It also could have had something to do with the NFL allowing the Rams to move back. Maybe the St. Louis market being unexploited doesn’t seem like such a problem with all the relatively close teams.
The two new teams to populate the greater area I mentioned before (but slightly to the east of Atlanta) were 1995 expansion teams Carolina and Jacksonville. Jacksonville was a surprise winner over St. Louis, Baltimore, and Memphis. In recent years, there have been rumors about the Jaguars possibly relocating, and St. Louis has been suggested as a possibility. Jacksonville is the fourth-smallest TV market in the NFL, ahead of only Green Bay (which was the only smaller market in 1995), Buffalo, and New Orleans.
St. Louis had given the Rams a very friendly lease before there was so much popular sentiment against public financing and of course before the global financial crisis that took place in 2008, the year of Frontiere’s death. Part of that agreement was for the city to maintain a top-tier stadium, meaning it had to be among the top 8 in the NFL even though St. Louis would have only been the 19th NFL TV market had the other Los Angeles stadium project been approved instead.
So the unwillingness/inability of St. Louis to do that does not, in my opinion, rule out potential relocation there by another franchise. Places like Houston, Baltimore, and Cleveland changed course after their original teams left (the current Browns team was really an expansion team even though we’re supposed to pretend it wasn’t), so the same could happen. Not that it would have to be in the top 8 (which shouldn’t be expected of a city that size anyway). It is concerning, however, that despite being in the middle of the pack in performance and despite the fans knowing relocation might be imminent, St. Louis was dead last in attendance in the NFL last year. More people per game went to see the Vikings, who play at a college stadium outdoors (which, to be fair, seems nice considering), even though there was room for 14,000 fewer people.
On a related note, no one seems to care about the Raiders’ ongoing stadium problems. I guess the NFL still regards that franchise as the enemy even though Al Davis (the other owner who abandoned the L.A.) has also passed away. (Among many perceived slights to the league, Davis had moved the team to L.A. despite losing 22-0 when the proposal was submitted to the other owners.) USA Today technically ranked the Oakland Coliseum second to last, but the author wrote last place Soldier Field wasn’t really the worst but was being ranked last because it used to be nice. I’m sure that’s a comfort to the Raiders.
Ryan, Robinson, and Knox are all still alive and over 80 years old. Those guys were emblematic of football to me when I was young, so I’m happy to know they’re still around; and it was fun to refresh my memory of them.
Slightly less memorable was Pardee, who as an aside played for Bear Bryant at Texas A&M before being a Ram as a player. Unfortunately, he passed away a few days shy of his 77th birthday in 2013.