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Hochman: St. Louis' story is familiar one for Seattle

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Rams moving out of the dome

Local 39 decorators Jack Dungey (left) and JIm McNeely remove a banner honoring former St. Louis Rams Hall of Fame running back Marshall Faulk which hung inside the Edwards Jones Dome on Thursday, Jan. 14, 2016. The NFL franchise is relocating back to Los Angeles. Photo by Laurie Skrivan,

There’s someone you should talk to about it. He’s been there before, just like you. He’s the guy over there, stocking cap, bushy beard, sipping coffee, muttering something about the roast.

“Hi, um, I’m St. Louis.”

“Hey man. Seattle.”

Yes, just like you, the city of Seattle lost a beloved sports team in recent years. In 2008, the NBA’s SuperSonics bolted for, of all destinations, Oklahoma City. And this past week, the Rams left St. Louis.

There are numerous similarities to the situations of these two towns, known for a famous structure and a popular brew. Both teams won the city a championship (the Sonics won it all in 1979). Both teams had a span of wonderment, with the “Greatest Show on Turf” here, and the mid-1990s Sonics, with Gary Payton and Shaw Kemp. Both teams had antiquated stadiums, which led to their demise, and both teams were doomed by poor city management and a greedy owner.

“I think that the bitterness and anger, it may dim a little bit, but it never really leaves you,” said Greg Bishop, a senior writer for Sports Illustrated and a Seattle native and resident. “I’ll just tell your readers: it’s harder to move on than they think.”

You probably have certain friends who are synonymous with a certain cities. Greg is my Seattle guy. He talks about Seattle the way people talk about their first crush. I wanted to get a sense of what St. Louis was about to go through, and see how Seattle responded to its sudden void.

Talking to Bishop, who has written numerous cover stories for SI, some even about his hometown Seahawks, he described the Sonics move like a breakup. Well, really, a dumping. It hurts because you care and because no matter how much you care, you’re powerless. It’s a betrayal. Soon, you’ll go through a process of trying to rediscover your faith, whether it’s in the Rams in Los Angeles, in another team, or even just in the NFL monster itself.

“I’ve swore off the NBA,” Bishop said.

He talked about remembering where he was for a certain game, and it reminded me of St. Louisans who know exactly where they were sitting — and who was to their left and right — when Mike Jones made The Tackle. He spoke of attending what eventually would be the Sonics’ final playoff game. He remembers just how loud it was in there, surely reminiscent of that reverberation when Ricky Proehl made his catch.

“I’m getting nostalgic just talking about it,” he said. “It was just really intertwined. The Sonics were a real part of the community. … They keep saying we’re going to get a team, but they just can’t get it done. I always think of Kansas City — they have that great arena downtown and nothing to put in it. I’m not sure the NBA will ever come back. … As time goes on, you’re going to have different politicians. Some of them are going to be super into it, and work to try to bring a team back, and other ones won’t be. You almost can’t even get wrapped into it. ...

“The NBA doesn’t really want to move anybody — they’re just going to use (the threat of moving a team to Seattle) to have cities buy new arenas, which is totally unfair to Seattle, because we built two of them! We’re still paying for it, you know? Oh, see, now you got me worked up.”

He sounds like we’ll sound. Like we do sound.

It just stinks, all of it.

Now, one avenue Seattle took toward rejuvenation was that of Major League Soccer. Right away, I’m here to caution: I’m not insinuating St. Louis is on some sort of a MLS fast track. Yes, we have a heart-thumping proud soccer community, and yes, St. Louis puts on grand showings for international soccer matches. But so many things have to happen to get a team, notably tussling it out with other possible MLS expansion cities and, of course, finding major investors for ownership and the pricey franchise fee. The MLS in STL probably won’t happen super soon, but Seattle’s own love affair with the Sounders is worth analyzing.

See, as Bishop said, “I never thought people would wrap their arms around it like that, but they have. What people do for Sounders games is awesome. They sell out the lower bowl every game. They do a lot of European-style things, like they have this cool walk from the International district down to the stadium, and they’re singing and doing chants. People are really into it.

“It just seems to fit into the city which is the direction it’s going, which is progressive. … Some of that’s because we were forced to move on to other things.”

And so, we enter our first Sunday without the Rams. It sneaks up on you, that feeling that just deflates you: Ugh, it really happened. They’re really gone.

St. Louis isn’t Seattle. But here’s hoping that St. Louis can sponge some of the stuff that made post-Sonics Seattle so progressive.


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