LA fans want the Rams back in Hollywood

ST. LOUIS — Andrew Hogan has a vision, one that comes to life with his words over the phone. It involves faith and passion and reuniting with a team that left when he was young. It involves sitting in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on a bright fall Sunday afternoon, watching the NFL played in the country’s second-largest market after a long absence.

It involves the Rams’ return.
 
Tom Bateman, Dennis Bateman and Jeremy Waters can picture that day too. The Los Angeles Rams were lost when then-owner and St. Louis native Georgia Frontiere shipped the franchise to the Gateway City in 1995. Tom Bateman says some LA Rams fans swore off the team after the move because “it’s like cheering for your girlfriend with her new boyfriend.” Dennis Bateman says seeing the Rams play in the Midwest is “like watching your ex raising the kids.” Waters says he wears an LA Rams jersey around town and receives responses like, “Oh, I used to be a Rams fan.”

Used to be. The Rams join cheap gas, the Red Car tracks and Marilyn Monroe as traces of Tinseltown’s past.
 
But Hogan, Waters and the Bateman brothers — leadership of the fan group Bring Back the Los Angeles Rams — hope for renewal. Their effort to create awareness is an attempt to rekindle memories of a franchise that excited their fathers and grandfathers, neighbors and friends.

One day, they hope for a reunion.
 
“It would be insane,” says Hogan, 22, the group’s founder and a web developer for the University of California, who was 5 years old when the Rams left. “I’ll probably have to get there three hours beforehand with traffic. It would be off the charts. They would probably average 85,000 to 90,000 fans a game — at least for the first couple seasons while they’re at that venue. It would be absolutely insane.”

The goal of the group, formed in November 2009 on Facebook as a way to gauge interest in southern California for a possible Rams return, seems attainable. After all, the franchise’s future is uncertain as it prepares to open its 18th season in St. Louis: Frontiere died in 2008; results on the field have been among the NFL’s most dreadful for much of the past seven seasons (the Rams own a 15-65 record in the last five); and debate continues about possible Edward Jones Dome renovations to meet “top-tier” status required by a lease agreement with the city. Owner Stan Kroenke could move the team after the 2014 campaign if the issue fails to be resolved.
 
With two stadium proposals, Los Angeles appears to be a viable candidate if the real estate mogul has a wandering eye. However, passions held by members of the Bring Back the Los Angeles Rams group — it had 5,647 Facebook likes as of Friday evening — aren’t unique to them, of course. It’s a nostalgia shared by fans who carry memories of the Baltimore Colts (Indianapolis), St. Louis Cardinals (Arizona) and Los Angeles Raiders (Oakland), among others. It’s a nostalgia born from loyalty.
 
“The idea of another team coming in is something a lot of us dismiss,” says Tom Bateman, 41, the group’s director and an Orange, Calif., resident who followed the Rams when they played in Anaheim, Calif., starting in 1980. “We’re not waiting around, waiting for a team to come to LA that we’re just going to put on their jersey. Being a Rams fan, we were born Rams fans here in Los Angeles. That was the team we grew up with. That was part of our lives. That’s not something you transfer to another team.”

The four men have kept their blue-and-gold connections strong through decades of experience. Hogan is too young to remember most about the team’s stay in Los Angeles, but walk into his father’s garage and you will find trinkets like a Rams onesie and a sign that reads, “Rams Fan Parking Only.” Tom Bateman speaks with pride about how former running back Eric Dickerson drifted across the field like a hang glider; the Hall of Famer’s 248-yard, two-touchdown masterpiece against the Dallas Cowboys in the 1985 NFC divisional round stands as one of the fan’s best memories.
 
Dennis Bateman remembers watching the Rams’ loss to the Minnesota Vikings in the 1976 NFC Championship Game as a young boy, with many more dramatic afternoons to come. Growing up, when the Rams were blacked out on television, Waters traveled to his grandfather’s home and tuned to broadcasts on the local AM feed.

“I could never turn my back on the Rams completely,” says Dennis Bateman, 41, the group’s media coordinator and a Lompoc, Calif., resident, who began following the team as a kid with his brother. “It was hard to watch them from far away, but I could never bring myself to cheer against them. … You never forget your first love. Nothing can really replace that. Even in moments when the Rams did win the Super Bowl in Atlanta (in 2000), beating the (Tennessee) Titans, that was exciting. Who couldn’t get caught up in that?”

Still, something unfamiliar hoisted the Lombardi Trophy through confetti at the Georgia Dome that January night. Tom Bateman insists on the separation between his Rams and what came after. To this day when he’s asked to name his favorite team, he will say without pause, “the Los Angeles Rams.”

Wounds remain for others in Southern California with similar pride. They remember when Frontiere accepted the NFL’s largest prize and said the trophy “proves we did the right thing in going to St. Louis.” Those words were a dagger to scarred hearts, a stinging reminder of what was missed.

“I guess it’s an individual thing,” says Waters, 37, the group’s moderator and a Riverside County, Calif., resident who watched Rams games with his uncle and grandfather as young as age 3.

“I remember there was a time when I thought, ‘Who will I root for since the Rams are leaving?’ That thought came and went. I couldn’t do it.”

Neither could many like him, Hogan and the Bateman brothers, diehards who envision the Rams’ return to Los Angeles someday. Much remains to be decided about the franchise’s future in St. Louis.

Until then, they will continue to dream.

“Most everybody admits,” Waters says of a possible reunion, “there would be crying.”