It's been a long 20 years, but the NFL is back in Los Angeles. And it's the right team.
I often disagree with Bill Plaschke, but his column last week was right on the money. The choice was clear. The Rams were far and away the best option for the NFL in Los Angeles.
Repeatedly, polls showed that the Rams would gain the most support of any of the three leading candidates. The Chargers have little brand power in Los Angeles, and if they come here, I still think that they should change their name. The Raiders do have a strong fan base in Los Angeles, and they still have a viable brand. But people here still have memories of an unsafe Coliseum in the 1990s where fans dressed in Silver & Black weren't afraid to start a fight. The Raiders in LA could work, but it would take more work.
The Rams have a great history in Los Angeles. I grew up a Rams fan and have fond memories of watching them play. I first learned football by watching a Rams team with Jim Everett, Cleveland Gary, Jackie Slater, Henry Ellard, Flipper Anderson, and Kevin Greene. But the tradition goes back even further with Crazy Legs Hirsch, Deacon Jones, Norm Van Brocklin, Merlin Olsen, Roman Gabriel, Eric Dickerson, and Jack Youngblood.
Beyond the history, the Inglewood stadium was a far superior stadium to what the Chargers and Raiders offered in Carson. Three times the size of the Vatican, the Hollywood Park facility will also serve as a major entertainment and retail complex. It could house the NFL Network studios and even be the site of a west wing of the NFL Hall of Fame. It offers a major boost to a blighted area, and brings a fantastic new tourist attraction to the region and its local economy. It's only a matter of time before the Final Four and the Super Bowl are played in Inglewood.
All of this is possible thanks to a bold and daring owner in Stan Kroenke. He's exactly the type of owner that Los Angeles needs. He has the deep pockets to fund the stadium and pay an expensive relocation fee. His visionary new facility will set the gold standard for pro sports venues. We know that LA appreciates an owner with money and creativity, and I think that he'll fit in well.
While I do feel badly for the people of St. Louis who have now lost their second NFL franchise, I think this was the right decision for the league. The Rams should have never left LA for Anaheim back in 1980. Georgia shouldn't have subsequently left for a much smaller St. Louis market, and threatened to sue the league when they first rejected the relocation. Stan Kroenke saw that the Rams were significantly more valuable in Los Angeles, and he's willing to spend through the roof to come back here.
Los Angeles now has a pretty good team that will likely play in the Coliseum this fall. The Rams have one of the league's best defenses. I've always liked head coach Jeff Fisher, who is a USC alum. They also have a star running back in Todd Gurley. The obvious question is at quarterback, where they need to figure out if Nick Foles is the long-term answer. Since there isn't much QB talent available in trade or free agency, the Rams may want to see if they can draft one at No. 15 or in a later round. Some projections show them getting Paxton Lynch out of Memphis, which would be a nice pick. The Rams could also use some help at receiver, where Tavon Austin hasn't quite realized his potential.
Regardless of what happens with the personnel, I have one request for Kroenke: Go back to the old uniform and colors. The old school blue and gold unis were one of the best in the NFL. The current Rams were a darker blue and gold that translates better in a dark dome, and honestly looked cooler 10 years ago on video game covers. The 49ers switched from a modern uniform to their traditional look a few years ago and it was a huge hit. The Rams could do the same. And if the Rams want to forge a stronger connection with the people of Los Angeles, then they should look like the Los Angeles Rams, not the St. Louis Rams.
As for the Chargers, I honestly don't care whether or not they move here. They'll be the No. 2 team in Los Angeles if they come here, and it will take years of brand building and winning seasons for them to have a strong presence here. I do believe that they can be successful in Los Angeles, but I also know that they have a terrific fan base in San Diego that deserves one more year to try and keep them.
As for the Raiders, I think their brand is unique enough that LA could support them as an alternative to the Rams. The Coliseum area is much safer than it was 20 years ago, and I'm sure that Raider games wouldn't be quite so dangerous.
On a personal note, this has been a very long and emotional 20-year wait for me. We have seen dozens of stadium plans fail. We've seen numerous teams threaten to move here, only to pull back. We've seen expansion franchises awarded to Cleveland and Houston, while we've continued to wait. But I'm thrilled that the Rams are back in Los Angeles. It's the right move for LA. Stan Kroenke deserves praise for pushing forward his vision in spite of all the obstacles before him. And I'll be looking into buying Rams season tickets at the Coliseum (assuming they don't cost too much).