Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Burwell gets the long-term picture

Rams must win before asking fans to foot stadium bill

We all know where this is going. We all know where this eventually will lead.
Everything about the future of the St. Louis Rams, both short term and long
term, leads us directly to the Edward Jones Dome.

This is the crossroads where everything intersects — hopes and fears, dreams
and wishes, victories and failures, political and social choices, the
disturbing past, the unsettling present and the tenuous future. All the answers
are inside those walls of the big brick playground on Broadway.

Contractually, the Rams are eventually going to need a new stadium or at a bare
minimum a wildly upgraded current one — if St. Louis hopes to keep Rams
ownership from at least a predictable serious flirtation with another city. How
well this city deals with the stadium issue will provide us with the answer to
whether yet another NFL franchise will be bolting the Mississippi riverfront
and heading off to another city. That's a fact, not a debate. It's something
everyone knows, but no one really wants to talk about because quite frankly,
we're all afraid of the potential answers.

Between now and 2014, the dome will be so far behind the rest of pro football's
other state-of-the-art stadiums that there's no way the city's convention
authority will be able to meet the terms of the lease agreement that the Edward
Jones Dome be among the top eight NFL facilities by 2015.

People in St. Louis probably don't like that idea even a little bit, because
they know at the end of that conversation, there will be a big fat tax bill
with their names on it. But that was part of the deal when St. Louis lured the
Rams away from Los Angeles. The city — and that means all of us — made a
promise that it's being asked not so subtly to keep.

So it's time for a home improvement loan or a brand-new house. Either choice is
going to hurt. Either way, there's a monstrous price tag. You know what the
going rate for new stadiums is, and the cost for sprucing up a charming little
fixer-upper like the Dome isn't any easier to cope with, either. It's going to
hurt, and one way or the other, the price is going to be steep. Keep the Rams
and shell out more money, or lose them and never expect another NFL team to
enter the city's borders again.

That vote is going to come sooner or later, and I'm not telling anyone what
they should do with their tax dollars at this point, particularly in a
struggling economy when it takes $50 to fill up a Yugo.

But I do know this. If the Rams ownership really is committed to staying here,
and they are truly intent on holding the city to the terms of the lease (trust
me folks, they are), then it's incumbent on them to give the fan base a product
worth supporting. Dallas Cowboys boss Jerry Jones understood that before he got
up the gumption to build his gargantuan $900 million palace in suburban
Arlington but needed the vote of the people to get the deal done.

He knew the Cowboys couldn't be a crappy product in the same year that the
proposition to gain state tax dollars to help fund the project was on the
voters' ballots. So he brought in Bill Parcells to coach the team and create a
quick fix on a sluggish franchise. It worked. Parcells turned the team around,
the citizenry gave Jones his funds and the most fabulous football palace in the
history of the world is growing in the shadows of the Texas Rangers' ballpark.

The Rams need to do the same thing. No, not bring in Parcells. They need to get
good in a hurry and stay good for a long time. They need to provide an
entertaining and successful product on the field to make that inevitable big
tax bill for stadium improvements more palatable to digest for a citizenry that
historically hates large tax bills.

So that uncomfortable feeling you're getting about the Rams' future is totally
justified. Oh yes, all roads do lead to the Dome, and sooner or later, we're
all going to have to deal with this. Yet your suspicions that something
clandestine is afoot may not be as easy to justify, but are simple to

All the words coming out of new owner Chip Rosenbloom's mouth are attempting to
soothe your fears, and he's not feeding you any lies. When he has said he's not
shopping the team, that's the truth. But you should know exactly what that
means. It's the same as me saying my house is not for sale, and then someone
knocks on my door with a million-dollar check.

Here are the keys, thank you very much, and I'll send somebody for the

Everything is for sale, you just have to find the right asking price.

So this is where all roads lead. We're about to find out just how much the Rams
mean to St. Louis, and how much St. Louis means to the Rams.

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