PHOENIX— This desert city has a lot of history when it comes to the fortunes of the St. Louis pro football market.
It was here in 1988 that league owners voted to allow Cardinals owner Bill Bidwill to move to Arizona, despite the fact he had no promise for a new stadium. It took until 2006 for the team to finally leave Sun Devil Stadium for Glendale, which has since hosted two Super Bowls.
Seven years after the vote that allowed the Cardinals to move, Los Angeles Rams ownership arrived in Phoenix hoping to be allowed to move to St. Louis. The move was at first voted down, but after some additional negotiations and the team agreeing to pay the league $46 million from the sale of PSLs, the move was approved a month later on April 13.
In a sign of things to come, as part of that April vote, the league also approved the sale of 30 percent of the team to Stan Kroenke. That set the stage for what we are now experiencing — Kroenke involved in an effort to build a stadium in Los Angeles (presumably as a new home for the Rams), St. Louis working furiously to move forward with a new riverfront stadium plan to keep the Rams there, and the San Diego Chargers and Oakland Raiders assembling their own backup plan for a shared L.A. stadium if efforts to build new homes in their respective cities don’t pan out.
It’s interesting to look back and reflect on some of the things said after the vote occurred.
• Cowboys owner Jerry Jones: "I can’t imagine L.A. without a football team, but who would have thought two years ago the Rams would be out of L.A.?"
• Then-commissioner Paul Tagliabue, pledging to make it a high priority to place another NFC team in Los Angeles: "We hope to be able to put together a plan to have a second team in L.A. It could be expansion or it could be the relocation of an existing franchise."
The other team, of course, was the Raiders, who then moved back to Oakland two months later and left the Los Angeles market without pro football.
Now, 20 years later, and after numerous failed opportunities to build a stadium in Los Angeles, we have come full circle. Gathering in Phoenix again at league meetings that begin Monday, the Rams, Raiders and Chargers arrive at the conclave immersed in competing plans to build a stadium in different parts of Los Angeles.
Kroenke is unveiling the specifics of his stadium plan in Inglewood that includes a massive surrounding development of office buildings, retail stores and a 6,000-seat performing arts venue.
Chargers owner Dean Spanos and Raiders owner Mark Davis will update their joint plan to build a stadium in Carson should neither be able to get a legitimate stadium built in their current markets. The odds that those markets can pull it off are long.
Both those owners have consistently said publicly what Kroenke hasn’t: that their Los Angeles plan is an option only if stadiums can’t be built in their respective cities. Meanwhile, a St. Louis task force continues its hard work, making incremental progress for the riverfront stadium development. While that group doesn’t have a presence in Phoenix, task force head Dave Peacock remains emboldened by the message he has consistently received from the NFL: Finish the stadium plan and you control your own destiny.
In a profile of Kroenke in the current issue of ESPN the Magazine, David Fleming writes that "there is growing sentiment inside the league that after a year of gaffes by the NFL front office, the last thing it can afford to do is alienate more fans while leaving a pile of stadium money on the table. ‘Goodell won’t let Stan move to L.A.,’ one NFL owner told ESPN. ‘Because Goodell would catch holy hell for moving a team from a market willing to spend hundreds of millions to keep a team.’"
Meanwhile, senior vice president Eric Grubman, the league’s point man on all things Los Angeles, is scheduled to make a presentation shortly after the official opening of the meetings Monday morning on where things stand with these dueling projects and owners.
"This will be the first time that I’ll have the opportunity to give specific answers," Grubman told CSNBayArea.com on Sunday. "Up until now, I’ve had to walk a tightrope of giving a briefing without parting with any information that was confidential. No teams were out in the open. No sites were out in the open. Now we have a lot more to work with."
Speaking to InsideSoCal.com, he called the situation "high tension" and added, "I’ll be on the hot seat."
With all the scenarios that have been advanced, just how convoluted has the whole process become?
"If you asked the 10 people closest to this issue to all write their predictions down on what will happen to these teams (and the Los Angeles market) and seal them in envelopes," Grubman recently told MMQB.com, "you’d have 10 different answers written down."
All the while, the 2015 season promises to be emotionally draining for fans in three cities — four, if you count Los Angeles. And all fans in St. Louis, Oakland and San Diego can do is stand by idly, figuring out whether to support a team while wondering if they will have one to cheer for a year from now.
Howard Balzer can be heard daily on H & Friends from 9-11 a.m. on FoxSportsRadio 1490.