Considering the horde of Chiefs fans who traveled across the state, and the thousands of empty crimson seats on Thursday night at the Edward Jones Dome, a sea of red more suited to Arrowhead Stadium became the backdrop for their game against the Rams.
The surreal scene, with what looked to be fewer than 20,000 people in the stands, featured a booming “home of the CHIEFS” at the end of the Star-Spangled Banner and underscored what hovered over an otherwise trivial final exhibition game.
This Governor’s Cup game might have been for keeps, the trophy perhaps to be held in perpetuity by the winner if the Rams get NFL approval for owner Stan Kroenke’s scheme to move them back to California.
All of which is on the mind of the man for whom the trophy is bestowed, Gov. Jay Nixon, who is taking more frequently to emphasizing the significance of having the “NFL” in St. Louis rather than specifying it be the Rams.
That’s why Nixon was in New York on Wednesday, once more meeting with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and various owners.
Accompanied, among others, by co-leader of the stadium task force Dave Peacock, Nixon continues touting a proposed $985 million stadium plan and makeover on the Mississippi River that he calls an “outstanding redevelopment project that won’t raise taxes.”
It would, though, call for an estimated $250 million in extensions of the bonds used to build the Edward Jones Dome, making the funding a point that many find unpalatable but that Nixon fervently believes is a must.
“Fans … know the value of an NFL franchise here,” Nixon said Thursday afternoon in his St. Louis satellite office. “They know the value of the brand.”
If, that is, it’s stable.
By way of example, Nixon points across the state.
“You have to have top-flight facilities, committed fans and an ownership group committed to performing, producing and being active in the community. Kansas City has all three,” said Nixon, with a nod to Chiefs owner Clark Hunt. “And, consequently, good years and bad, Arrowhead’s a great place to see a football game and a tailgating experience second to none in the NFL.”
An “active, engaged ownership,” Nixon reiterated, was crucial to that.
And what the Rams fans are getting is anything but, nicely symbolized by the usually invisible Kroenke being on full view yucking it up for a series of practices the team recently held in Oxnard, Calif.
He also apparently contradicted his Silent Stan style with what the NFL Network called a “passionate and powerful” presentation of his vision of a stadium in Inglewood, Calif., to the NFL’s Committee on L.A. Opportunities.
That behavior is at the heart of the disillusionment with Kroenke, who took over as majority owner in 2010 and whose prevailing competitive commitment appears to be money.
Now, you might think that about many NFL owners.
But most feel the obligation to at least posture some sense of civic obligation — the absence of which here appears unconscionable.
So it’s a sad, exasperating and complicated issue for St. Louis and Rams fans, who with the musical chairs whirling may soon have another franchise headed here if they lose this one.
Since a glorious burst of two Super Bowls in three seasons, they’ve been getting kicked in the teeth for years with bad football (35 wins the last eight seasons) and rumblings of losing a team again. And now they’re effectively being held for ransom by a rich, rich man.
For all the objectionable and confounding aspects to this, including a lawsuit by six state legislators to block the funding of the stadium, the fundamental question for St. Louisans remains simple:
Do you want to be an NFL city or not?
Meanwhile, that’s perhaps a particularly sensitive matter In Kansas City, both in terms of how state money has been allocated over the years and what the implications would be of being the only NFL team in the state.
“That’s a hard question to answer,” Chiefs president Mark Donovan said, later adding, “It’s hard to say and hard to predict what it would mean if (the Rams) are there or they’re not.”
Hunt sits on the NFL’s Committee on L.A. Opportunities, which also is considering a proposal from the San Diego Chargers and Oakland Raiders to build a stadium in Carson, Calif.
While declining broader comment, he said, “I think it’s a positive for the Chiefs and the National Football League having the Rams in St. Louis.”
Only time will tell if that will happen.
“It’s a challenging situation from all angles: (the Rams’) won-loss record, the ownership dynamics, the dynamics that come through the other cities and the other owners and the challenges of raising the money and selling the idea,” said Frank Viverito, St. Louis Sports Commission president. “There are as many scenarios as there are Republican presidential candidates right now.
“And one or more of those scenarios have another team playing in St. Louis sooner rather than later.”
And meaningless last exhibition game or not, the scene was a bleak one for the current one on Thursday night.