By JIM SALTER
ST. LOUIS (AP) — Consider St. Louis a big fan of the New England Patriots on Super Bowl Sunday.
Seventeen years after the Patriots beat the Rams for the NFL championship, fans around here will again be watching when the two go at it in Atlanta. Thing is, allegiances have changed since the Rams moved back to Los Angeles three years ago, leaving behind a legacy and some bruised feelings.
Rams haters will have plenty of company in bars this Sunday.
At the 11 Hotshots sports bars around St. Louis, fans will get discounted pitchers of beer for every Patriots touchdown. Photo likenesses of Rams owner Stan Kroenke will be placed on dartboards — and in urinals.
“It’s just something kind of fun we can add to the mix and hopefully give St. Louisans some solace as they watch the game,” Hotshots marketing director Justin Boyd said.
Sports fans Bob Rothschild and Phil Heidemann frowned at the mention of Kroenke’s name as they lunched at a Hotshots in the St. Louis suburb of Fenton. Despite their disdain, both plan to watch the Super Bowl.
“I’ll be watching, but I’ll be rooting for the Patriots,” said Heidemann, 60.
Rather than a Super Bowl party, the Tick Tock Tavern is hosting a “Superb Owl” party with jazz music and a movie — but no football.
Even in baseball-crazy St. Louis, the Rams were the toast of the town in their “Greatest Show on Turf” days. They won the 2000 Super Bowl and were heavy favorites to win again in 2002, until a second-year quarterback named Tom Brady led a last-minute drive culminating in a game-ending field goal and a 20-17 New England win.
After that, football in St. Louis was never the same.
The Rams got old and the glory days faded into a five-year stretch starting in 2007 when they went a dismal 50 games under .500, 15-65. Attendance dropped. Georgia Frontiere, the St. Louis native who brought the franchise to her hometown in 1995, died in 2008 and Kroenke, a minority owner since the relocation from Los Angeles, bought the team two years later.
At first, the native Missourian denied any intention of moving. But by 2015, it became clear Kroenke had his eyes on California. In January 2016, despite St. Louis’ proposal to build a $1 billion stadium on the Mississippi River that would have been largely funded with public money, NFL owners OK’d the move back to LA.
Turns out St. Louis can hold a grudge. In the shadow of the Gateway Arch, Kroenke and his team are even less popular than the Chicago Cubs, the Cardinals’ archrival. It didn’t help that Kroenke’s lawyers put together a scathing evaluation of St. Louis as an NFL market on their way out of town.
The departure even spurred lawsuits that linger to this day. The St. Louis Regional Convention and Sports Complex Authority, St. Louis city and St. Louis County alleged in a 2017 suit that the Rams’ move violated a 1984 league guideline that was established after the Raiders moved from Oakland to Los Angeles. That case is still pending. The Rams also recently agreed to pay $24 million to personal seat license holders in St. Louis who filed a class-action lawsuit.
Of course, the fact that the Rams got good so fast has been another blow.
Randy Karraker, host of The Fast Lane afternoon radio show on 101 ESPN in St. Louis, figures that about 90 percent of St. Louisans are anti-Ram. He’s among them, so much so he can’t even bear to watch the Super Bowl.
“It’s impossible to derive pleasure from that game,” Karraker said. “I hate the Patriots for what they have done to football, and I hate the Rams. So it’s a no-win situation for me.”
Many ex-fans took to Twitter after the Rams beat New Orleans in the NFC championship game. One wrote that St. Louisans still rooting for the Rams “are the same people who wanna be best friends with their exes.” Former U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill tweeted a meme of the late Bob Ross painting a serene landscape.
“This is what I’m watching on Sunday February 3 at around 5:30. For 3 plus hours,” she wrote. “Better than the alternative.”