70 Years of NFL Relocations

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Football fans are once again reminded they don’t own their home teams. The Oakland Raiders’ planned move to Las Vegas marks the 11th time since the 1940’s that an NFL franchise is packing up for “greener” pastures.

The Cleveland Rams uprooted to Los Angeles in January, 1946, barely a month after winning the NFL championship. Battling persistent financial woes and unforgiving Midwest winters, the lure of California was too tempting for owner Dan Reeves. It didn’t hurt either that Rams QB Bob Waterfield was married to Hollywood glamor star, Jane Russell.

The Rams became California’s first professional sports franchise.

The Bidwill family moved the Chicago Cardinals to St Louis in 1960 on a losing note- the team had lumbered through a dismal decade and were overshadowed by George Halas’ dominant Bears. Initially, the nearly bankrupt Cardinals couldn’t afford the NFL’s hefty relocation fee but the league softened its terms, fearing startup rival AFL would grab the St Louis market.

In 1988, Bill Bidwill picked up the Cards again and headed for the sunbelt in Arizona, leaving behind an aging stadium and a mediocre playing record.

The search for upgraded facilities and luxury boxes devolved into legal morass for Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis. The inveterate businessman transplanted his team to Los Angeles in 1982 but not before filing an anti-trust lawsuit against the NFL to clear the way.

Two years later, drama unfolded in the east coast when the Baltimore Colts departed for Indianapolis with an eminent domain threat on their tail. Under the cover of darkness on March 29, 1984, fifteen long-haul trucks loaded the team’s possessions and hastily drove for the state line.

Lawsuits reached the Supreme Court but owner Robert Irsay prevailed and the Baltimore Colts were reduced to a sentimental relic- the team’s Super Bowl V trophy stayed in the city.

Baltimore acquired a new franchise twelve years later when Art Modell replanted the Cleveland Browns’ personnel as the Ravens. The move was a replacement, not a relocation- the Browns’ name, logo and history remained in Cleveland.

By 1995, the Raiders’ and Rams’ fortunes were sagging and southern California was mired in recession. With public funds short for stadium improvements, including for earthquake damage repairs, both teams left- the Raiders back to Oakland and the Rams to St Louis.

The second largest media market in the country was effectively deprived of an NFL team for the next 21 years.

In Texas, Houston Oilers Bud Adams locked horns with the city over renovations to the Astrodome and eventually took off for Tennessee in 1997. House Majority Tom Delay even introduced a Bill in Congress to block the move though it failed to garner support.

A generation on and the quest for dollars and new stadiums remains unchanged. In 2016, the Rams made their way back to Los Angeles, which also picked up the San Diego Chargers for the 2017 season.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

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