All three were speeding toward Los Angeles, hoping to abandon three of the NFL's oldest stadiums in search of riches in the nation's second-largest media market.
On Tuesday night, the Rams broke through the gridlock, winning approval from league owners to return to Southern California, where the team was based from 1946 to 1994. The Rams had been linked to possible relocation since at least January 2014, when owner Stan Kroenke purchased a chunk of land in the city of Inglewood between the Forum, former home of the NBA's Lakers, and the old Hollywood Park racetrack.
To continue the automotive metaphor, the Chargers have seemingly pulled over in San Clemente to ask for directions -- the team has one year to work out a deal to join the Rams in Inglewood.
The Raiders, meantime, have broken down outside Bakersfield, and the only way they can catch a ride over the Grapevine is if the Chargers decide not to share a stadium with the Rams.
Speculation the Chargers would move north began in 2000, when the team first stated its desire for a new stadium -- just three years after the city of San Diego spent $60 million to renovate Qualcomm Stadium without putting the plan up for a public vote. The rumor mill heated up when the Chargers held training camp in the city of Carson, just south of Los Angeles, in 2003 and 2004 -- and steadily intensified over the past decade as numerous stadium proposals in San Diego County failed.
As for the Raiders, the league's renegade franchise has seemingly been rumored to return to Los Angeles from the moment it signed an agreement to renew ties in its longtime Oakland home in June 1995.
All three teams filed paperwork with the league earlier this month requesting permission to relocate to the Los Angeles area, and the league's owners met in Houston on Tuesday to sort out the issue.
Including the Rams, Chargers and Raiders, more than half of the NFL's franchises have been believed to have interest in moving to Los Angeles -- or at least trying to use the possibility as leverage for new stadiums or renovations -- over the past two decades. Rumors were so prevalent that the Onion satire website posted a spoof story in 2005 indicating that every NFL franchise would be relocated to Los Angeles.
With all that in mind, we recall the history of threats, rumors, teases and speculation linking various NFL teams to the Los Angeles market since the Rams and Raiders pulled up stakes after the 1994 season.
Cincinnati Bengals, 1995
The Bengals were more serious about moving to Baltimore than Los Angeles when owner Mike Brown sought a new home to replace Riverfront Stadium. Nevertheless, Southern California was mentioned as a potential destination in various media reports and NFL meetings. Cincinnati voters approved a tax increase in March 1996 to help fund new stadiums for the Bengals and MLB's Reds. The Bengals moved into Paul Brown Stadium prior to the 2000 season.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 1995
When Malcolm Glazer bought the Bucs from the estate of Hugh Culverhouse in January 1995, he appeared committed to keeping the team in Tampa. "We expect the Bucs to remain here forever," Glazer said at the time. "Operating the Buccaneers in any area other than the Tampa Bay community was never a thought, an option or anything else." Within a year, however, Glazer said he would be forced to relocate without a new stadium and was reportedly considering Los Angeles, Baltimore, Cleveland, Hartford and Orlando. Hillsborough County voters approved a tax hike in September 1996 that allowed construction to begin on a new venue in Tampa, and the Bucs moved into Raymond James Stadium in 1998.
Seattle Seahawks, 1996
Seahawks owner Ken Behring came within an eyelash of moving his team to Southern California in 1996. The Seahawks moved their equipment to Anaheim and held some offseason workouts there with the stated intention to play at the Rose Bowl for two or three seasons until a new stadium could be constructed. Behring said the team was prepared to rebrand itself with a new name and colors. The team reluctantly returned to Washington after being threatened with steep fines by commissioner Paul Tagliabue. With litigation to block the team's move to California afoot, Behring reached an agreement to sell the franchise to Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, contingent upon voters agreeing to pay for a new stadium. Voters approved funding in 1997, and the team moved into Seahawks Stadium, later known as Qwest Field and CenturyLink Field, in 2002.
San Francisco 49ers, 1997
Team owner Eddie DeBartolo floated the idea of a move to Los Angeles if San Francisco voters turned down a June 1997 referendum on a new stadium. The measure narrowly passed, which appeared to clear the way for a new venue and shopping mall to be built adjacent to Candlestick Park. The plan unraveled, however, when DeBartolo got into legal trouble over his illicit pursuit of a casino license in Louisiana. The Los Angeles rumors didn't completely fizzle until the city of Santa Clara approved a stadium plan in December 2012, and the 49ers finally moved into Levi's Stadium in 2014.
The NFL conditionally awarded Los Angeles an expansion franchise in March 1999, contingent on ownership and stadium questions being solved. "It's Los Angeles' team to lose," Carolina owner Jerry Richardson, chairman of the NFL expansion committee, was quoted in the Los Angeles Times. "And if we can't get it done, we will immediately go to Houston." Those conditions weren't met to the NFL's satisfaction, and Houston businessman Bob McNair was awarded the right to buy the league's 32nd franchise for $700 million in October 1999. "I haven't met anybody yet who feels depressed because of this," Los Angeles mayor Richard Riordan said. "Sure, it would have been nice to have a team, but I'm not going to miss a moment's sleep over this." The new team announced its Texans nickname in September 2000, thinking decidedly inside the box, over two other finalists -- Apollos and Stallions.
Arizona Cardinals, 2000
Barely a decade after relocating to the Phoenix area from St. Louis, the Cardinals were suspected to be interested in moving to Los Angeles if they didn't get a new stadium in Arizona. Despite poor performance and attendance, Maricopa County voters approved taxes on rental cars and hotel rooms in November 2000 to build the team a new home. Ground was broken on the new venue in 2003, and University of Phoenix Stadium opened in 2006.
New Orleans Saints, 2001 and 2005
Rumors connected the Saints to Los Angeles as far back as the 1990s, but in 2001 owner Tom Benson announced he was interested in moving the team to Los Angeles or San Antonio if Louisiana didn't provide hefty inducements. The state signed off on $186 million in subsidies, but the devastation of Hurricane Katrina brought the relocation conversation to a head again in the fall of 2005. The Louisiana Superdome was repaired in time for the Saints to return for the 2006 season, and in 2009 the state reached an agreement designed to keep the team in New Orleans until at least 2025. Louisiana's governor at the time, Bobby Jindal, said the state would save $280 million compared to the previous pact, but the Saints reportedly will get nearly $400 million in public money over the course of the deal.
Indianapolis Colts, 2002
An ESPN report in September 2002 indicated the Colts could move to Los Angeles as soon as the 2003 season, fortifying previous speculation the team might relocate. When owner Jim Irsay's private jet was conspicuously spotted in the San Fernando Valley, the link between the Colts and Los Angeles was reinforced. It wasn't the first time an Irsay was connected to pro football in Southern California. Irsay's father, Robert, had purchased the Los Angeles Rams in July 1972, but subsequently traded the team to Carroll Rosenbloom for the Baltimore Colts and cash. Eventually, Jim Irsay brokered a deal to keep the Colts in Indiana, with the public paying the majority of costs for a new stadium. Ground was broken in September 2005, and the team moved into Lucas Oil Stadium for the 2008 season.
Minnesota Vikings, 2002
In May 2002, owner Red McCombs announced the hiring of an investment firm to work with a group that planned to build a stadium adjacent to Staples Center in downtown Los Angeles. It began a decade of speculation that the Vikings were headed to Southern California, while various stadium proposals stalled in Minnesota. Zygi Wilf bought the team from McCombs in May 2005, but the Los Angeles threat loomed until a deal was approved in May 2012 to build a new stadium in Minneapolis. Legal action against Wilf in an unrelated matter led to further delays, but ground was finally broken in December 2013. The team is scheduled to move into U.S. Bank Stadium for the 2016 season.
Jacksonville Jaguars, 2011
If ever there were an NFL franchise that could cry about revenue, it would be the Jaguars. They play in one of the league's smallest markets and have endured inconsistent attendance and local television blackouts. Consequently, speculation was rampant for years that the team would bolt for Los Angeles. Original owner Wayne Weaver was steadfast about keeping the team in north Florida. But when Shahid Khan agreed to buy the team in November 2011, the rumors started anew. However, Khan also publicly stated his commitment to Jacksonville multiple times, and he has pumped tens of millions of dollars of his own money into EverBank Field improvements. The Jaguars' annual appearance in London has kept relocation chatter alive, but that arrangement provides revenue which arguably makes it easier for the team to stay put.
Atlanta Falcons, 2013
While the Falcons were already pushing for a new stadium in Atlanta, owner Arthur Blank was reportedly approached in January 2013 by Los Angeles interests who hoped to lure the team west. Although the Falcons acknowledged they would seek a new home in the Atlanta market -- albeit outside the city of Atlanta -- if a deal couldn't be reached downtown, there is little indication the team considered a move to California. Blank reached an agreement with Atlanta on funding for a new stadium in March 2013, with the city contributing $200 million and the owner providing $800 million and accepting responsibility for cost overruns. Construction began on the retractable-roof venue in May 2014, and the team plans to begin play in Mercedes-Benz Stadium in 2017.
Carolina Panthers, 2013
Two Charlotte officials reportedly told the city council that the Panthers were "ripe for courting" by Los Angeles during a "closed" session that team owner Jerry Richardson was inexplicably allowed to attend. The franchise was seeking public funds to renovate privately owned Bank of America Stadium, and the council was compelled to give the team $87.5 million to upgrade the venue.
Miami Dolphins, 2013
In January 2013, owner Stephen Ross bid to acquire AEG, a firm that was trying to build a stadium in downtown Los Angeles. Four months later, Florida legislators killed a referendum that would have provided public funds to renovate Sun Life Stadium, and the team said its future in South Florida could be at risk. Observers then tried to connect the dots to Los Angeles. But like the Panthers, the Dolphins own their stadium, making relocation less desirable. Ross ultimately decided the team would pay for a $400 million upgrade to its current home. Stadium renovations, which include canopies to shade most of the venue's seating areas, are scheduled to be completed for the 2016 season.
Buffalo Bills, 2014
The Bills had been rumored as a relocation candidate for years based on Buffalo's status as a small media market. Fortunately for the team's fans, longtime owner Ralph Wilson was fiercely loyal to the area and vowed never to move the franchise. As Wilson crept up in age, however, observers openly wondered how Buffalo could afford to keep the Bills. Speculation abounded that the team might move to Los Angeles or Toronto after Wilson died at age 95 in March 2014. But Wilson had included a key provision in the team's latest lease, signed in 2012, mandating a $400 million relocation penalty prior to 2020. Terry and Kim Pegula, owners of the NHL's Sabres, bought the team in October 2014 and pledged to keep it in western New York.
The NFL is returning to the Los Angeles area after two decades of absence. Will the Chargers join the Rams in Inglewood? Will the Raiders consider filling the vacuum in St. Louis, where a $1.1 billion stadium has been proposed? While we're on the subject, what about Toronto? How about London?