ST. LOUIS — A year ago, a San Francisco 49ers touchdown run against the Rams would have been cause for despair at the Hot Shots Bar & Grill in suburban St. Louis. On Monday night, it was cause for celebration.
About 50 patrons cheered every Rams mistake and every 49ers success during the game, the first since Rams owner Stan Kroenke took his football team back to Los Angeles after a 21-year stay in St. Louis. The 49ers posted their first season-opening shutout in franchise history, beating the Rams 28-0.
Eight months after the league approved Kroenke’s relocation request, jilted fans in and around the Gateway City haven’t shaken the resentment. Not by a long shot.
“Whoever they play, I’m rooting against them,” Peter Mueller, a 22-year-old security officer from Wentzville, Missouri, said while watching one of several TVs tuned to the game.
Mueller acknowledged it’s a bittersweet feeling. His father had season tickets at the Edward Jones Dome, and he often tagged along to games, including those in the glory days when the Rams won one Super Bowl, in 2000, and lost another two years later.
The Rams have ranged from bad to awful in the years since, but fans agree that bad football was better than no football. Kroenke, a native Missourian, is now Public Enemy No. 1 in St. Louis.
“I definitely feel betrayed,” said 66-year-old Buzz Webb. The retired real estate agent figures that since his daughters live in Kansas City, he’ll take a shine to the Chiefs.
“I still love the Rams players that were here, but the Rams as a whole — long gone to me,” Webb said.
St. Louis is widely known as a baseball city, and rightly so given the Cardinals’ history of success on the field and in the stands. They have topped the 3 million attendance mark for the 13th straight season. It wasn’t long ago that the Rams were at the top of the heap, too.
Hundreds of thousands lined the streets downtown in 2000 after the Rams beat the Tennessee Titans 23-16 in Super Bowl 34. The Rams sold out every home game from their arrival in 1995 until December 2006, a 95-game streak that ended due to a dreadful run of football that continued through their departure. The team hasn’t had a winning season since 2003. By last season, the on-field performance and Kroenke’s obvious interest in L.A. caused the Rams to drop to the bottom of the NFL in attendance.
Kroenke’s proposal to move the team west and build a $2 billion stadium in Inglewood, California, was met warmly by league owners, helped along by the team’s scathing analysis of the St. Louis market that became public days before the NFL relocation vote in January. That analysis still sticks in the craw of many fans, including 24-year-old St. Louis County police officer Scott MacKenzie, who watched the game at Hot Shots with Mueller.
“That really turned me against Kroenke and the Rams,” MacKenzie said.
At a “Turn or Burn” event Saturday, about 150 people came to the Elks Lodge in Oakville, a St. Louis suburb, with their old Rams clothing and hats. They could either burn it or have it shipped to Los Angeles and donated to needy veterans. Most opted to donate.
Bob Eckelkamp, 70, who helped coordinate the event, said one of the highlights of the night was shooting paintballs at a poster of Kroenke.
“I don’t know if people hate the Rams so much,” Eckelkamp said. “They mostly hate Kroenke.”