As a brief aside before I say the main thing I want to say: I am religiously against declaring that now that the Super Bowl is over, it is baseball season. It is okay if you think this, but I can’t do it. I’ll probably spend time in February watching NHL and NBA and college basketball and NASCAR and whatever other sport is on my television before the World Baseball Classic starts one month from today.
But anyway, how about that Super Bowl right? That gridiron battle between the New England Patriots and the Atlanta Falcons, the one that totally just happened and isn’t happening hours from now but I wanted to knock my post out before the game started? The two teams played really hard, Lady Gaga showed off her incredible vocal talent while also irritating those who prefer more conventional concert performances, and the commercials were more underwhelming than you remember them. Super Bowl, indeed!
This was the first National Football League season since the St. Louis Rams skipped town and became the Los Angeles Rams. I’ve made no effort to hide that I was a huge fan of the rarely-successful NFL team and was quite heartbroken not only when they skipped town, but when I found the national level of sympathy towards St. Louis to be insufficient.
(Sympathy towards the people of San Diego over the loss of the Chargers seems quite a bit more widespread, which makes me happy. St. Louis and San Diego aren’t in competition. Both got run through the emotional ringer by billionaires motivated solely by making more money, in crass maneuvers for bigger paydays by a league that still tries to argue with a straight face that #FootballisFamily.)
It was a weird year. The Rams went 4-12, a step back from their previous four seasons, and do not even get the solace of a high draft pick, which they had previously traded to the Tennessee Titans in order to trade up in the 2016 NFL Draft to take Jared Goff, who was terrible. Todd Gurley, as a direct result of being the running back on a team that every opponent knew was going to constantly run the ball, struggled mightily in his sophomore season. The best player was Johnny Hekker, their punter. It is generally not a good thing when your team’s best moments come when voluntarily forfeiting possession of the ball.
The semi-objective decline in quality of the NFL product (many of the league’s best players are retiring early as the long-term effects of concussions become more well-known), along with the knowledge that the 2016 St. Louis Rams were going to be dreadful, makes their departure somewhat more palatable. But it was still tough.
Throughout 2016, I took stock repeatedly of why it was that I cared about the Rams, arguably more than I cared about the Cardinals. And it wasn’t because I cared more about the actual sport (as aesthetically pleasing as the Greatest Show on Turf, engineered by 2017 Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee Kurt Warner, was, the Jeff Fisher era’s hallmarks of two-yard runs and more kicks than most soccer matches didn’t inspire a lot of people to love the game itself). It wasn’t because I cared more about the players (although Rams players often did much more right by the fans of St. Louis than their cowardly owner).
It was the sense of community. The Rams, despite consistently drawing higher television ratings than the Cardinals (this is true of every NFL team against every MLB team), still felt niche. Telling people you liked Yadier Molina meant you had some knowledge of St. Louis—telling people you liked James Laurinaitis meant you were a part of St. Louis. Barbecuing and drinking at 9 a.m. on a Sunday morning in the shadow of an ugly concrete building surely sounds much sadder than it felt at the time—it felt like you were a part of something.
But the community is still here. The players and some team personnel relocated to Los Angeles, and I don’t begrudge those who did, but most of the people who put their hearts and souls into mediocre Sunday afternoon football games remain. And having the St. Louis Cardinals, as well as the St. Louis Blues and perhaps a Major League Soccer franchise in the near future, helps keep that spirit alive through different outlets. And that is a very, very good thing.
Here’s the baseball stuff from last weekend.
Ben Markham wrote about how Gabe Kapler would do better at managing the St. Louis Cardinals than Mike Matheny. Like Matheny, Kapler is a former player who would seemingly do well at relating to players, but Kapler also has extensive knowledge of modern baseball statistics which goes beyond what we typically associate with managers.
The red baron posted the daily thread on Sunday. He also used a photo of Shaquille O’Neal while he was speaking to Dexter Fowler that I intend to use way too much this season.