Group wants Rams back in L.A.

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Andy Hogan was 5 years old when the Los Angeles Rams left Southern California for St. Louis. He has never gone to a Rams game and his earliest memories of the NFL don't include a team in Los Angeles.

Of all the fans rallying support behind the NFL's possible return to L.A., Hogan, a 21-year-old senior legal studies major at California, would appear to be the least likely.

Thanks to the power of the Internet, however, he's slowly becoming one of the more influential.

Hogan began a group on Facebook called "Bring Back the Los Angeles Rams" which has more than 3,300 members. About 150 yellow-and-blue clad members attended the group's first rally Saturday at a sports bar near Anaheim Stadium, the Rams' last California home, coinciding with the Pro Football Hall of Fame inductions of Rams running back Marshall Faulk and linebacker Les Richter.

"I have no connection to the Rams," said Hogan, wearing an old Jim Everett jersey he found in his father's garage. "I never went to the games but my dad was a big Rams fan. But when they left he wasn't going to be a fan of a team that deserted him and neither was I. Then I started to read about their history and found out what they meant to this city and the possibility they could come back."

As Hogan sat in front of his laptop at the rally, updating his Facebook page, his father, John, a 53-year-old insurance salesman, looked on from a distance. He begrudgingly put on his old Rams hat for the occasion but stopped short of wearing any other paraphernalia from a time in his life he thought was behind him.

"I've moved on," John said. "My son was barely 5 when the Rams left and the NFL has kind of passed me by. I really don't care anymore because I don't have a team. I like the Chargers but I don't live and die with them like I did with the Rams. My dad and brother and I would be on the kitchen floor for three days after a Rams loss. I don't know if I'll ever feel that way about a team again.

"I'm very proud of [my son], but I wish he'd spend more time studying in college than messing around with websites for the Rams."

The event was bittersweet for John, who had gone to Rams games with his father since 1961 and was a season-ticket holder until the team moved in 1995. As he looked at his son wearing an old jersey he used to wear to games, mingling with old Rams fans twice his age, it reminded him how much he wished he could have taken Andy to games growing up the way his father had taken him.

"When the Rams left a part of me left," John said. "I felt bad because I share the Angels and Ducks with my son now and we're big sports fans and we never had the opportunity to go to Rams games.

The group has gained some steam in recent weeks. The Los Angeles City Council passed a memorandum of understanding Tuesday that outlines the framework of an agreement between Anschutz Entertainment Group and the city to build Farmers Field, a $1.2 billion football stadium slated to open before the 2016 NFL season.

Coincidentally the Rams, which are owned by Philip Anschutz's friend and fellow Denver billionaire Stan Kroenke, can get out of their lease agreement with the St. Louis Convention & Visitors Commission in 2015 if the Edward Jones Dome, which is one of the league's older stadiums, doesn't make significant improvements.

The prospect of the Rams returning to Los Angeles is enticing not only for the fans who showed up wearing old Jack Youngblood, Pat Haden and Eric Dickerson jerseys, but the handful of former Rams players who also showed up to the rally.

"I'm a Rams fan even though I act like I'm not because I'm as mad as everyone else that they left," said Mike Lansford, who was the Rams' kicker from 1980 to 1992, "but deep down inside when you see the horns and the colors, a chill still goes up your spine.
It's cool that there is a small chance that they're going to come back. From a selfish perspective that would be great because I'm the all-time scoring leader of a team that doesn't exist, the Los Angeles Rams. It does not do wonders for business."

Lansford was joined at the event by formers Rams running back Greg Bell (1987-1990), wide receiver Ron Brown (1984-89, 1991), fullback Robert Delpino (1988-1992), receiver Joe Sweet (1972-73) and Mike Horan, who played 16 years in the NFL and punted for the St. Louis Rams when they won Super Bowl XXXIV.

Horan never played for the Rams in Los Angeles (Chuck Knox passed on him following a 1983 tryout) but the Orange County native who went to Sunny Hills High School, Fullerton College and Long Beach State believes the Rams belong in Southern California despite the name of the city on his Super Bowl ring.

"I'd like to see the Rams come back to Los Angeles," he said. "It would be like a homecoming to see them come back. We're going to get an NFL team. It's going to happen. It could be any one of a handful of teams and I honestly hope it's the Rams."

Delpino came to the event with his 13-year-old son, Robert Jr., who was clutching a game ball Delpino was given in 1992, his last season with the Rams.

"I can't take my son or my daughter to a football game," Delpino said. "They were born after the Rams left. It's difficult to have an entire generation of kids in Los Angeles grow up without the NFL. When we were here you could go to training camp, you could see a guy walking down the street or in the mall. You could touch them. But now football is just on TV. It's not tangible to them anymore."

The Rams left Los Angeles after the 1994 season, their fifth consecutive losing season, in which they went 4-12. The Rams had made the playoffs in 14 of the previous 17 seasons, advancing to the NFC Championship Game in 1990 before the sudden downturn. Many fans believed then-owner Georgia Frontiere, upset she couldn't get a new publicly financed stadium in Orange County, sabotaged the team to make it easier to leave by citing a lack of support.

The Rams traded quarterback Jim Everett and linebacker Kevin Greene and hired head coach Chuck Knox, whose outdated "Ground Chuck" offense went against the aerial attack that made the team popular with the fans. As the losses mounted, attendance dropped and Frontiere secured a publicly financed stadium in her hometown of St. Louis.

Saturday's strong turnout was somewhat surprising for Lansford, who still shakes his head when he thinks about how the Rams left Los Angeles.

"At the end when the Rams were gearing up to move they did a good job of suppressing the fans' support," said the famously barefooted kicker who wore sandals to the event. "It was actually worse than them not trying to win. They actually worked at making the team unattractive."

As Saturday's event wrapped up, Hogan reminded the crowd there would be other rallies planned during the NFL season, possibly culminating in a season-ending gathering at L.A. Live, next to the proposed location for Farmers Field and the possible future home of the Rams.

When one member shook Hogan's hand on his way out and told him he would see him at the next rally, Hogan reminded him he may not physically be able to attend because he is going back to UC Berkeley this fall.
"But I'll back," he said. "And so will the Rams."

Arash Markazi is a columnist and writer for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter.