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City of Angels, Visions of Hell

Commentate-Off Submission #2 comes to us from The Oracle who writes of the karma of Los Angeles as the NFL prepares to descend. Want to hear more from the Oracle in 2002? Talk about it in the <A HREF="">Commentate-Off 2002 Forum!</A>

Los Angeles, the City of Angels.  A town where money talks, nobody walks and you're only as big as your box office.  For as long as I can remember LA has been a cultural Mecca of sorts.  The home of the beautiful people, LA is fashionable, upscale, wealthy, trim and tan.  Los Angeles eclipses even New York City as trendsetter to the world, yet remains as indisputably American as Artificial Christmas Trees, gang colors and up front signing bonuses.


How did a city of such pedigree end up without NFL football?  How did they lose not one but two franchises seemingly within the blink of an eye?  As talk of relocating an NFL franchise to Los Angeles once again rears its' head, I think back and ponder their circumstances out there in Southern California. I'm thinking that I should feel a bond with those people.  They too know the sting of having something as dear as their professional football team torn from their bosom.   Surely there must be the foundation for some sort of shared experience there, yet I don't remember any particular hue and cry from the people of LA over the loss of professional football.  Was I so completely absorbed by the events surrounding the departure of my beloved Browns that I missed it?  Could be.  I'll admit to being a ‘homer' when it comes to sports.  I support my home team, but I don't really follow sports as an art form.  Could my indifference to football beyond the Browns have caused me to miss the commotion on the West Coast when their teams up and left them?  No, I'm too much of a news hound.  I read three newspapers a day and watch the news nightly. The frenzy in Cleveland was national news, not just sporting news.  If LA had been up in arms the way Cleveland was I would have heard about it.  I see why their football teams left.  The folks in LA just didn't care as much about NFL football as the folks in Cleveland did.  In fact they didn't seem to care very much about football, period.  Either that or they were just too ‘cool' to make a big fuss about it.  "No biggie, dude…you know?"


Then all at once it comes to me in a moment of clarity, "The Big Picture".  Granted, it's a Friday night and my perceptions and reactions are being shaped by any number of external considerations so I am particularly vulnerable to moments of epiphany at this point, both real and imagined. Be that as it may, it is suddenly very clear to me that Cleveland and Los Angeles are inescapably joined over this issue.  Not as compatriots, but as opposite sides of the same coin.  They serve as a graphic illustration of where professional football came from, and where it is going.


When the Browns left Cleveland, the city went into an uproar.  From the Mayor's office, to council chambers to the fan on the street the outrage was complete.  Action was taken in the courtrooms in the press and on the phones.  The City of Cleveland was not going to be denied its' proud blue collar tradition of Browns football and woe unto anybody who tried to say otherwise.  You'd have better luck trying to take the Liberty Bell out of Philadelphia.  The Browns were part of our heritage and our tradition.  They were part of what defined Cleveland.  The Browns were the birthright of Clevelanders and they were not going to be taken without a fight the likes of which the NFL had never known.


On the other hand, when the Raiders and the Rams left Los Angeles, the biggest complaints came not from the fans or the City, but from the owners of the other 28 NFL franchises.   Of course, the owners were concerned more about the hit on their pocketbooks than any loss of tradition or blemish on the image and reputation of the NFL.  The LA Market is a cash cow for television and marketing revenue and the NFL did not want to part with it.  The LA fans themselves didn't organize.  They didn't mobilize.  They didn't vocalize.  They didn't chastise.  Instead, they seemed to vaporize.


Fast-forward a few years to when the 32nd NFL franchise came up for bids.  Somehow or another LA managed to not land the franchise and the Houston Texans were born.   Can you imagine?  The entire NFL desperately wanted a team in LA, and somehow nobody was able to muster the support or the cash for an ownership group to land the franchise.  I know there is plenty of cash in LA, so there must have been a complete lack of support.  Sure, there were a couple of half-baked potential ownership groups, but they appeared to be simply going through the motions.  There wasn't the groundswell of enthusiasm behind any of those groups that you would expect from a city that actually wanted a franchise.  Apparently the people of LA don't want an NFL franchise very badly.  Either that or they are too ‘cool' to beg.


Flip ahead to the present and we now have a private group proposing to build a state of the art NFL caliber stadium for Los Angeles with private money.  Never mind that there is nobody to play in the stadium.  The philosophy is that "If we build it (and start throwing around wads of money), they will come".   At least that is the hope.  The League itself is starting to talk about relocating a franchise to LA with a sweetheart deal that would include hosting a couple of Super Bowls as enticement as well.  Everybody is priming the pumps for the NFL's return to Los Angeles.  Everyone that is, except the fans, who remain coolly indifferent to the process.  "Like, you know…whatever dude".


This is downright insane.  It inflames my sensibilities.  On the one hand we have Cleveland.  A town where our football is loved revered and supported like nowhere else in the world.  We had to beg, plead and threaten just to win back the privilege of pouring our hearts and cash into our Cleveland Browns.  Los Angeles on the other hand seems to be getting dragged back into the NFL whether it wants a team or not.   That is outrageous!


It is all too apparent to me now that the professional football I grew up enjoying is dead.  The City of Cleveland reclaiming the Browns was a last dying gasp of the proud tradition that was once NFL football.  We Browns fans are throwbacks to a day gone by when football was played and coached by men who loved the game and watched by fans that loved the game.  When we think of football we conjure up images of tattered, muddy warriors with clods of earth and grass stuck in their facemasks, playing on grit and determination.  Salary Caps and luxury boxes are not to be found in our memories of the Cleveland Browns and NFL football.  We are the last bastions of a day gone by.  If the Browns had left town in 2005 instead of 1995, I don't know that we as a city could have pulled off a feat as impressive as retaining our name and colors and securing the promise of another franchise.  The climate of the NFL is changing that rapidly.  Changing for the worse.


Today it is all about money and lots of it.  One year's Champion is next year's salary cap victim.  "I smash for cash."  Tre' Johnson said it, but the entire league thinks it.  Los Angeles has lots of money, so lets shove a franchise in there somehow so we can get a slice of that pie.  Maybe Jack Nicholson will buy season tickets.  Makes for good face-time during national telecasts.  More fans will tune in.  More market share means higher advertising rates.  More advertising revenue makes for bigger television contracts between the league and the networks.   Bigger TV revenues mean more profits and larger caps.  Larger caps mean bigger salaries for the players.  Oh yeah.  Somewhere in there some football games will get played, too.  It's all good.  Right?


They tried to warn us this would happen.  Norman Jewison saw it coming thirty years ago and tried to tell us in his cinematic classic Rollerball.   Who could forget Rollerball?  Not that piece of crap with LL Cool J., the original one with James Caan.   James Caan was such a bad mutha back in the day.  Tough as nails and cool as ice all at the same time.  Sonny Corleone kicking butt on roller skates was way cool, but do you remember the Orwellian theme of the movie?  The year was 2018.  Professional sports were owned and controlled by corporations.  The business of sports had become bigger than the people who played the games.  Any players who bucked the system got squeezed by ‘The Corporation'.  Of course in the 70's we thought that could never happen and we didn't take heed of the warning in Jewison's vision of the future.


Now here we are in the 21st Century.  Professional football is still played at Lambeau field.  However it is also played at 3-Com Park, Cinergy Field, PSINet Stadium and Heinz Field.  Venues named for the corporate sponsorship that put millions of dollars in the team's coffers.  Not quite corporate ownership, but it isn't quite 2018 yet either. 


This is not your father's NFL.  After spending some time thinking about NFL football returning to  LA I've come to the conclusion that it will happen, but I don't care when or who.  Los Angeles is a city where points are awarded if your BMW matches you living room décor for crying out loud.  I can't relate to or sympathize with that kind of superficial pretentiousness.  Go ahead and move another team to LA.  I don't really care which one.   Put the Jags in LA.  Or the Saints, the Jets, the Vikings, the Chiefs or even the Ravens.  Who cares?  Just please don't let it be one of the remaining old guard NFL franchises like the Pack or the Bears or the Eagles or the Steelers.  I respect and honor their tradition in their respective cities (yes even the Steelers) too much to want to see that happen to the fans that live there.  Humor me please Mr. Tagliabue.  Coddle my innocence and my naiveté and allow me to continue dreaming.  Let me savor my last bit of nostalgia for the old NFL a few years longer while my cynicism grows and I finally become desensitized to the inequities of the ‘Business' of football


Sadly, I see all too clearly now as I reach my mid 40's that I am a hopeless romantic in my thoughts and wishes.  I pine for times when things were simpler and purer and had a meaning beyond dollar values and I am saddened to know that it will never again be that way.  I find myself saying things like "I don't understand kids today" or "I remember when things weren't like this" and I realize that I have become my father.  As I settle into middle age and the evening years of my life I see where the NFL and indeed the world are ultimately headed and I don't care for the direction they have taken.  The frost is on the pumpkins.  You can't go home again.


Bartender, another beer please.  Bring me a shot of Jack as well.  Better bring a round for Mr. Caan too.  It looks like it's going to be a long night.

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