The biggest news in the NFL right now, even with whatever circus Johnny Manziel is in right now, is the recent move by the Rams from St. Louis to Los Angeles. While the move may seem like a drastic change, it certainly isn’t the first time a franchise has up and left. In fact, some of the most famous teams in the country have started out somewhere else. Here’s ten franchise moves that still affect the sports world today.
Immediately I will acknowledge a few things. This list is not a definitive list for THE ten most famous sports moves in history. I only list ten moves that I find significant to the sporting world in America (sorry internationals). I’m also from Los Angeles, and I recognize that maybe this list may have a West Coast bias. But if we’re being honest, plenty of teams would enjoy moving to nice weather cities, and the West Coast has a lot of them. That isn’t my fault.
After their move from Baltimore, the New York Highlanders didn’t have too much success in their ten years at Hilltop Park in Manhattan, although they finished second in the AL pennant race three times in that span. Still, they lived in the shadow of the New York Giants. Hilltop Park was much smaller than the Polo Grounds, the home turf of the Giants, who regularly won the NL pennant in those days. Then, in 1913, when the Polo Grounds were rebuilt after a 1911 fire, the Giants allowed the other New York team to move in. The nickname “Highlanders” no longer applied since the team didn’t play at one of the highest points in Manhattan. Because the team was officially known as the New York Americans and was already being shortened to “Yanks” to fit it into headlines, the team took the nickname “Yankees”. The Yankees won their first World Series in 1923 over the Giants during their first season in Yankee Stadium after moving from the Polo Grounds, and the team would go on to dominate New York and professional baseball.
In 1957, the Kansas City Athletics were the most westerly team in baseball. In 1958, this would change, as what is arguably baseball’s fiercest rivalry moved to the Golden State, each team taking one of the two largest cities and making it their own. The New York Giants and Brooklyn Dodgers moved to San Francisco and Los Angeles, respectively. The two teams were already fierce National League rivals when they arrived in California, and since moving to the West Coast, the rivalry has only grown. Both teams have frequented the playoffs since moving, keeping the competition between the two teams strong.
The five-time NBA champion Minneapolis Lakers moved to Los Angeles in 1960. That year, the team selected Jerry West with the second pick in the NBA draft, and, coupled with Elgin Baylor, once again became a dominant force in the NBA. They added Wilt Chamberlain in the 1970s, finally winning their first championship in Los Angeles in 1972. The team then had their Showtime Lakers era of Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. In the early 2000s, Shaquille O’Neal was the dominant frontcourt presence for the team, and the Kobe Bryant era is only now coming to a close. The Los Angeles Lakers-Boston Celtics rivalry is the biggest in basketball, and while in a down period right now, it could never have happened without the move from Minneapolis, or it at least would not have the same ring to it.
Robert Irsay, owner of the Baltimore Colts, looked to negotiate for new upgrades to Memorial Stadium in Baltimore. The team’s poor performance restricted its revenues, and the city was unable to use taxpayer dollars to fund the renovations. Indianapolis already had a stadium ready. On March 29, 1984, Mayflower Transit moving vans arrived at the Colts complex, moved everything out, and departed for Indianapolis by midday. To drop all lawsuits related to the move, the Colts agreed to support moves of a new team for Baltimore, but for twelve years, the sting of losing the Colts, especially in this manner, stayed fresh in the minds of Baltimore fans.
Los Angeles hosted the Olympic Games in 1932 and 1984. It houses one of the most storied college football programs in the NCAA (USC). The Coliseum still holds the torch and Olympic Rings. Super Bowls I and VII were played at the Coliseum, and five other Super Bowls were held at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena. The city also once held two professional football teams, but in 1995, the nation’s second largest media market lost the Rams to St. Louis and the Raiders to Oakland. Since then, the city has not hosted a Super Bowl. Two stadia with capacities of 93,607 and 92,542 were reduced to hosting USC and UCLA (plus an annual bowl game) respectively. The NFL, for the first time since 1946, would be without Los Angeles for two decades.
The life of Cleveland sports fan is full of pain. In 1986, it was “The Drive.” In 1987, it was “The Fumble.” Both of these famous plays came in AFC Championship Games against John Elway and the Broncos. But it’s what happened in 1996 that will hurt more. The Baltimore Ravens officially entered the NFL in 1996 as an expansion team. However, they were made entirely of the former Brown’s personnel. The Ravens picked Jonathan Ogden and Ray Lewis for their first season in Baltimore, and in the team’s fifth season in Baltimore, they were Super Bowl champions on the strength of a Ray Lewis led defense. The city of Cleveland kept the records and name of the Browns and would resume play in 1999 with new replacement personnel. Since their rebirth in 1999, the Browns have had two winning seasons (9-7 in 2002 and 10-6 in 2007) and a lone playoff appearance (2002). Coupled with seeing their former team win two Super Bowls just adds salt to the wounds.
Earl Campbell made the Houston Oilers one of the best teams in the NFL in the late 1970s. However, two AFC Championship Games in Pittsburgh gave the team nothing to show for it. Warren Moon led the Oilers to the playoffs consistently, only to see it all fall apart, most famously on January 3, 1993, where the team lost a 35-3 lead in Buffalo in the Wild-Card Round, the largest comeback in NFL history. As the Tennessee Titans, however, it looked like they’d finally escaped their bad luck, with the Music City Miracle featuring a controversial lateral from Frank Wycheck to Kevin Dyson. Dyson, however, couldn’t do it again in Super Bowl XXXIV when he was tackled at the one-yard line with the score Rams 23, Titans 16 as time expired. The Titans never made it back to the Super Bowl even though they reached the playoffs three of the next four years and had one of the 2003 co-MVPs Steve McNair. The team reached the playoffs again in 2007 and were the AFC number one seed 2008 only to lose their first game each year.
It was a special day. It began with a U2 and Green Day concert. Irma Thomas and Allen Toussaint gave the national anthem a jazzy feel. At the end of August 2005, Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf, and the New Orleans sports teams spent the next season on the road. On Monday, September 25, 2006, the Superdome was open for business once again. In a game where every neutral fan was rooting for them, the Saints went up 7-0 over the Atlanta Falcons after a blocked punt in the first ninety seconds, and the crowd erupted. They never looked back, eventually winning the game 23-3 en route to the NFC Championship Game. The team won a Super Bowl three seasons later, but it was this night in 2006 that gave the city hope again.
The Seattle SuperSonics were sold to a group of Oklahoma City investors who moved the team to Oklahoma City in 2008 after reaching a settlement with the city of Seattle. They struggled during their first year in their new location, but the next year, led by Kevin Durant along with Russell Westbrook and James Harden, the team finished 50-32 and made the playoffs as the Western Conference’s eighth seed. Since then, the team has been one of the top franchises in the NBA, still boasting stars Durant and Westbrook, and reaching the NBA Finals in 2012.
The biggest news in the NFL this offseason will be the St. Louis Rams relocating back to Los Angeles. The team has already made a big move this offseason in trading with the Tennessee Titans for the number one draft pick. Additionally, this may rekindle interest from the NFL to host a Super Bowl in Los Angeles, which has not hosted a Super Bowl since it lost its two professional football teams. A new stadium will be built for the team, and until its completion the Rams will play at their old home, the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. For St. Louis, the wound is still fresh, but for the NFL, the second largest media market having a team can only be a good thing.