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Hochman: Is the NFL on our side?

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NFL team relocation hearing

St. Louis Rams fan Andrew Wurth of Hazelwood addresses NFL executives during the NFL's public hearing on potential relocation of the St. Louis Rams to Los Angeles on Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2015, at the Peabody Opera House in St. Louis. Photo by Chris Lee, clee@post-dispatch.com

Imagine being accepted into the brotherhood of your fraternity … and then being asked to re-pledge.

That’s what this feels like. That’s what Tuesday night felt like.

We are St. Louis, and our city is a member of the NFL fraternity of cities.

Yet the NFL is asking St. Louis to prove its worth.

OK, so, St. Louis will prove its worth. Its task force has cooked up a recipe for a new stadium with naming rights. And its citizens showed up Tuesday at the Peabody Opera House, giving smart speeches and making passionate pleas to NFL executives in attendance.

St. Louis can’t do anything about its owner trying to leave St. Louis — but the other owners owe it to St. Louis to have the city’s back, because, unequivocally, St. Louis should matter to them. It's a current and proud member of the fraternity. If anything, shouldn’t the NFL at least be on St. Louis’ side of the table during this process?

At times it comes off as if we’re lucky to even be talked about, like St. Louis is a lesser NFL city just because its on-field performance has been so bad in recent seasons. Did the Super Bowl appearances not happen? Did winning and joy and profits not occur?

On Tuesday, we were told that the NFL is looking out for St. Louis (though, of course, the execs are off to California to say the same thing to San Diego, which is a year behind in its new stadium process, and in Oakland, where there is no plan).

His name is Eric Grubman, and he knows people. Grubman works for the league, and thus the owners. He’s the exec overseeing the possibility of the NFL moving to Los Angeles. Grubman was in St. Louis for the public hearing, and he proclaimed: “If after this is done, the owners have an awful, awful hard decision, then we’ve done our job. We’re supposed to produce an outcome in the St. Louis market, if we can, that can make the team be healthy. And we’re not going to give up until we’ve had the opportunity to see it through to the end.”

That sounded reassuring on a night in which, amid so much logic and passion being presented, one wondered: Knowing that the task force essentially has a new stadium on track, how is it possible that somehow St. Louis could lose out on a team, but Oakland, with no future plan, somehow keeps its team?

Grubman said all the right things, but St. Louis has to be skeptical about how much clout and sway he has.

Also, Grubman was asked about the guidelines the NFL owners have put forth in regards to allowing a franchise to move. We talk about them often, quote them often. Well ...

“These relocation guidelines, they’re not a checklist that gives you an answer at the end,” Grubman said. “We are not the voters. The 32 owners are the voters. These are subjective things.”

The NFL owes it to St. Louis to try to make this work here. Integrity isn’t just nine letters squeezed together. Is that in the form of an expansion team? Is that having Stan Kroenke sell the team and perhaps purchase one of the California teams to move to Los Angeles?

This Grubman guy will have the owners’ ears. Well Eric, St. Louis is pleading to you: Sell St. Louis to these guys with unwavering confidence. Make it irresistible. It was just 16 seasons ago when this city packed the Dome and then the streets for a Super Bowl parade. This member of the fraternity represented the fraternity in the biggest way: as a champion. These fans still tried to support the Rams recently, and they were loud and proud Tuesday. The reality is, if you have a bad team and a bad stadium, it’s hard to have a good situation. But there’s a chance St. Louis could soon have a good stadium — and maybe even a good team, too. We saw what happens here when that happens. Confetti.

Cynthia C. Hogan is the NFL’s Senior Vice President of Public Policy and Government Affairs. On stage Tuesday, she proclaimed: “After listening to all of the speakers tonight, it’s hard for me to imagine there’s a city in the United States that has better fans.”

Is that going to come back to bite her? Let’s hope, on the contrary, it’s something St. Louis looks back upon with pride.

One longtime fan, Dan Palen, said to Grubman and the committee: “The NFL believes football is family. And I also believe St. Louis is saying we want you, we need you as part of our family — so much so that we’re trying to build you a second home in 25 years. If the NFL is about family, then please, please, let’s get this done in St. Louis.”

Grubman gets it.

During the night, Grubman himself said: “If our roles were reversed, I’d be saying what you’re saying. I know what it’s like to be a fan. I’m a fan. Our job, if asked is to give our opinions, and we’ll do it.”

After Tuesday, we know what his opinions are about the fans. And he knows there’s a stadium coming. And he remembers Kurt Warner and Marshall Faulk and that parade. 

The owners do, too. They often look out for their own, in regards to fellow owners. But will the NFL look out for one of its own -- one of its 32 fan bases?

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