The announcement that the Rams will return to Los Angeles brought smiles to me for two reasons.
One is very personal. I am an avid football junkie, more specifically an NFL junkie. I played high school football at Dorsey and later at Los Angeles City College.
As a kid football player, it was a virtual ritual in the 1960s for me to spend Sundays at the Coliseum cheering lustily at every completed pass, long run and of course score that a Ram player would make.
I would groan with thousands more fans at a dropped pass, a botched hand-off and a score by the opposing teams.
The Ram names of that era, Jon Arnett. Deacon Jones, Merlin Olson, and later Eric Dickerson, and Jack Youngblood were even then legendary. All are now Hall of Famers.
One of the fondest memories I had and still have was the memorable game that James “Shack” Harris had as the starting quarterback for the Rams in the mid-1970s. It had special significance since Shack had made history of sorts in becoming the first black starting quarterback for an NFL team with the Buffalo Bills in 1969. Five years later, he became the starting quarterback for the L.A. Rams.
It seemed like half of South L.A. was in the stands that evening for the game that he started. We rocked the Coliseum with cheers at every pass Shack completed. His triumph in starting that game was my triumph, and in a bigger sense, our community and the NFL’s triumph.
I was saddened when the Rams shifted to Anaheim and then packed up for St. Louis. I quickly shifted allegiance to the Raiders, and attended many of their games. But that didn’t erase the joyful times and thrills that the Rams had given me.
During the two-decade NFL drought in the city, I watched as various NFL owners played the L.A. card. That is they’d saber rattle city and state officials and threaten to pack up and head to L.A. if they didn’t pony up tens of millions in taxpayer dollars for new stadiums, luxury boxes, parking and street improvements and other perks.
In every case, they got what they wanted at taxpayer expense. It was all a big con game with L.A. as the foil. I watched as interest groups plopped on the table more than a dozen different proposals to build an NFL accommodating stadium in the city or the county. None of them cut muster.
The other question was what would be the cost and benefit to the city and region of having an NFL team here again. The NFL has been roundly knocked as a league of billionaire owners who specialize in making the taxpayers foot the bill for their teams. That’s the cost factor, but what about the benefit?
That was the other reason for my smile. Inglewood Mayor James Butts, who did much of the heavy lifting to get the Rams back here, and is owed a big debt of gratitude, made it clear that no public dollars would be spent on the move.
L.A. Rams owner Stan Kroenke also made clear that he and private investors would bankroll a new stadium and sports facility in L.A. Kroenke, even by the wealth standards of NFL owners, is in the top tier of money men with a personal net worth of nearly $6 billion. His wife, who’s an heir to the Wal-Mart fortune, has an additional net worth of close to the same.
Kroenke’s deep pockets did much to assure that the proposed Rams move back here would not spark a rebellion from residents and taxpayer groups that could have derailed momentum and enthusiasm for an NFL team here.
There are other clear and undeniable benefits that having the Rams here will bring. The obvious are the boosts to tourism, small and medium-sized business growth, improved transportation planning, the creation of thousands of service and construction related jobs, and a huge boost in tax revenues for Inglewood and Los Angeles County.
It will also give impetus to the development and upgrade of road facilities, hotels for boarding and lodging, communication facilities, and the Coliseum during the interim three years that the Rams will play there before moving to their new facility.
The Coliseum is probably the best example of a venue that would get, and is desperately in need of a facelift. Already, USC the current football occupant, has pledged to do a major overhaul of the structure that includes new seating, possibly a partial roof, bathroom and eating facility upgrades, and WiFi. The overall cost is about $70 million.
Having the Rams back, though, should not be fed by a dream of instant riches. That’s not the point of having an NFL team here.
The point is the spirit of goodwill, cooperation and gamesmanship, as well as the long-term promotion of a city, in this case, Inglewood and Los Angeles, as business and people friendly cities.
For a guy who has got football in his DNA, to have the Rams back here will be more than a stroll down memory lane. It’s another big goal line score for Inglewood, Los Angeles and me.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His latest book is “Trump and the GOP: Race Baiting to the White House” (Amazon Kindle). He is a weekly co-host of the Al Sharpton Show on Radio One and the host of the weekly Hutchinson Report on KPFK 90.7 FM Los Angeles and the Pacifica Network.