As now-former NFL rivals, the media's use of Seattle's loss of the NBA's SuperSonics to offer insight, and perhaps a roadmap, to grieving St. Louis football fans seems as insulting to the Gateway City as it does fitting.
If it were any other city...
Last Tuesday, the owners of the NFL's franchises voted 30-2 to allow the St. Louis Rams to return to the Los Angeles metropolitan area that the team called home from 1946 to 1994. The team had spent the last 21 seasons in the Midwest.
Much was made this past season of the Rams' sweep of the Seahawks in their annual two-game divisional series. The Week 1 loss seemed to justify many predictions of an ability drop-off following last season's Super Bowl defeat. The Week 16 loss, amid one of the most impressive league-wide team runs of the season, was meticulously dissected to somehow prove the Seahawks' success was a fluke. If they can't beat the downturning Rams, then surely they aren't worth the hype or the statistical recognition of the #1 defense and #5 offense in the league, right?
What many in the media and the football sycophancy of the other 31 teams -- lo, even many of the 12s -- seemed to forget was the weird nature of the Seattle-St. Louis matchup over the years. Hawks-Niners might have gotten all the media glory the last few seasons, but the Rams were quietly Seattle's toughest opponent. Even if Seattle managed to take two games in a season, or they split the series, the games were always the ugliest of the season. Records, stats, streaks, none of it mattered when the two clubs climbed into the ring.
At its bare essence, there was a grudging respect between the two cities' fanbases, even if it wasn't always conscious. The kind of respect great boxers come to have for one another after years away from the fight and the benefit of hindsight. For the most part, though, they carried on as sports fans do: trash talking and at each other's throats. So, to see Seattle's gutting loss of its cultural institution offered as condolence to and commiseration with St. Louisians falls a bit on the odd end of the scale.
But Sonics fans are knowledgeable and sympathetic to East Missourians.
Sports franchise relocation isn't the most exclusive club in the world, but it is a very unique one. As silly or trivial as sports may be, they provide civic identity and diverse populace unity in a way nothing else does. (It's one of those intangible and unqualifiable benefits that frequently comes up in arena/stadium discussions.) For a city to lose a team, especially one that has had success or has been a part of the community for a generation or more, it's the kind of sting that never goes away.
While the pain isn't as acute as to the city, there is a broader effect. The loss of the green and gold is more than just a Seattle travesty; it is a deep sports wound. The kind that leaves lasting impacts and scars over the whole national sports landscape. That's why the relocation has been prominently referenced in the last week.
Not to make light of St. Louis' pain, but in an odd way, the relocation coverage is a positive for us as it keeps the Sonics' plight fresh in the national consciousness.
- USA Today's For The Win ranks the Sonics' departure from Seattle "high" in their list of the "7 most devastating franchise moves in American sports history."
- Athlon Sports list of the "5 Sports Franchise Moves We're Still Not Over" echoes the sentiment.
- Our local CBS outlet kicks in the Sonics on their own view of "worst relocations."
- St. Louis Post-Dispatch sports columnist Benjamin Hochman spoke with a transplanted Emerald City friend about how "St. Louis' story is familiar one for Seattle."
- And as L.A., longtime leverage against communities to capitulate with the stadium game, is made pro football whole, a couple of local hot takes wonder when it's going to be Seattle's turn: Q13Fox's Bill Wixey asks "what do we have to do to get an arena in Seattle," while Geoff Baker of The Seattle Times thinks the L.A. return is a mixed blessing for Sonics (and NHL) fans. Do with those what you will.