Rams Franchise History: From Cleveland to Los Angeles

While the Los Angeles Rams have not always been in the same city, their rich history helped pave the way for the modern NFL we see today.

As they prepare to host the NFC Championship Game with aspirations of staying at home for Super Bowl LVI, the Los Angeles Rams have taken the road less traveled to get to this point. From Cleveland to St. Louis, and now back in Los Angeles, the Rams’ history is a long and winding road, but they have a chance to bring their second title to the City of Angels, almost completing the circle.

What cities have the Rams been in?

It is not new for a professional team to move and change cities. Whether it is due to a lack of support, financial backing from the city, or just having a better opportunity are various reasons. With that said, few teams have logged as many frequent flyer miles as the Los Angeles Rams.

Cleveland Rams Era and their first move to Los Angeles

Established in 1938, they began as the Cleveland Rams, presiding in Cleveland, Ohio. It took several years and multiple leagues (American Football League and National Football League) before the Cleveland Rams were even successful. Between 1937 and 1942, the Rams’ best finish was third place in the Western Division, with a 5-6 record in 1942.

The franchise suspended operations and sat out the 1943 season because of a player shortage during World War II and resumed playing in 1944. Just one year later, the Cleveland Rams would win the 1945 NFL Championship. In January 1946, after they were finally successful, the Rams moved to Los Angeles and became the only team in NFL history to win a championship and play in another city the next year.

The Rams would go on to play in the legendary Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum until they moved to Anaheim Stadium in nearby Orange County in 1980. The Rams made their first Super Bowl appearance while in Los Angeles, eventually losing to the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XIV. It was a de facto home game for the Rams, played in the Rose Bowl in Pasadena.

The moves both to and from St. Louis were contentious

They would remain in Southern California until the mid-90s, moving to the city of St. Louis, Missouri, in 1995 after a highly contentious public negotiation period. In March 1995, league owners rejected then-owner Georgia Frontiere’s bid to move the franchise by a 21–3–6 vote.

Commissioner Paul Tagliabue stated after rejecting the move, “This was one of the most complex issues we have had to approach in years … Once the bridges have been burned and people get turned off on a sport’s franchise, years of loyalty is not respected, and it is difficult to get it back.”

The Rams’ owner threatened the NFL with a lawsuit, with Tagliabue stating, “The desire to have peace and not be at war was a big factor.”

A month later, a 23-6 vote from the NFL owners approved the move. After the vote, Steelers owner Dan Rooney publicly stated that he opposed the Rams’ move because “I believe we should support the fans who have supported us for years.”

The state of the stadium paved the way for the Rams to leave St. Louis

Then, in 2015, the wheels of change were once again in motion, this time surrounding the stadium. Under the terms of the lease that the Rams signed in St. Louis, the Edward Jones Dome was required to be ranked in the top tier of NFL stadiums through the 2015 season. If not, the Rams were deemed free to break the lease and move without penalty.

In a 2008 poll on Sports Illustrated, St. Louis fans ranked it the worst of any NFL stadium, citing issues with tailgating, affordability, and atmosphere. It was ranked the seventh-worst major sports stadium in the United States by Time Magazine in 2012. The team would then begin negotiating what steps could be taken to remediate the “top-tier” requirement of the lease.

Ultimately, the other NFL teams’ owners voted to allow the Rams to move back to Los Angeles following multiple years of contentious public talks, which further soured the fans’ relationship with the current owner, Stan Kroenke.

In February 2015, the Inglewood City Council approved the stadium, and the construction began that December on what is now known as SoFi Stadium. On January 12, 2016, the NFL team owners voted 30–2 to allow the Rams to return to Los Angeles. They would play the next four seasons (2016-2019) in their old stomping grounds at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

Who owned the Rams before Los Angeles?

Homer Marshman founded the Rams in 1936 along with player-coach Damon Wetzel, an All-American from Ohio State who also played for the Chicago Bears. Marshman was a prominent lawyer and businessman in the Cleveland region. He received his law degree from Harvard School of Law and served as special counsel to Ohio’s attorney general from 1934 to 1947.

In June 1941, Marshman and his partners sold the Rams to Daniel Reeves and his business partner Robert Levy for around $100,000. Reeves was the son of James Reeves and Rose Farrell, who were Irish immigrants who came to New York City.

Reeves’ acquisition of the Rams was a pivotal moment in sports history as the Rams became the first American major league sports franchise to be located on the Pacific Coast. By the early 1960s, there were five professional teams located in the Southern California area.

Reeves assumed full control after a falling out with his partners

In 1947, Reeves would bring back in Levy as he needed co-owners to share in the mounting losses due to his attempt to turn the team around. Both sides would control a one-third stake of the franchise, with the other third going to Edwin W. Pauley and Hal Saley.

Reeves and Levy would eventually have a falling out, and Reeves found himself on the outside of decisions as Pauley would side with Levy most of the time. Pauley eventually assumed Levy’s stake, giving Pauley two-thirds ownership of the team. This did little to quell tensions.

In 1962, the NFL stepped in to facilitate the team’s transition and held a closed auction. Reeves outbid Pauley, valuing the Rams at $7.1 million against Pauley’s bid of $6.1 million. This allowed Reeves to assume full control of the franchise once again. By the time of Reeves’ passing in 1971, the team’s worth was estimated at $20 million.

A whirlwind of events takes place all in one day

Following Reeve’s passing, the Rams were a part of Reeves’ estate. On July 13, 1972, Chicago businessman Robert Irsay purchased the team on a last-minute bid of $19 million, which was $2 million more than that of future Tampa Bay Buccaneers owner Hugh Culverhouse.

On the very same day, Irsay completed his first trade. Not for a player, but organizations. Irsay swapped the Rams to Carroll Rosenbloom, the first owner of the Baltimore Colts. 12 years later, with the help of Indianapolis Mayor William H. Hudnut III, fifteen Mayflower trucks transported the team and their gear from Baltimore to Indianapolis, where the team presides today, owned by Robert’s son, Jim Irsay.

The Rams would change hands several times in the coming years

Georgia Frontiere inherited 70% of the team before the 1972 season following the passing of her husband Carroll in a drowning accident. Frontiere then fired stepson Steve Rosenbloom and assumed total control of Rams operations. She was the driving force behind the team’s move to St. Louis with the help of Kroenke, who purchased a 30% share of the team.

Frontiere would control the Rams for 28 years, passing away in January 2008. Ownership of the team transferred to her son Dale Rosenbloom and daughter Lucia Rodriguez.

In May 2009, Rosenbloom and Rodriguez officially offered their majority share of Rams for sale. Forbes magazine published an estimated value on the team at $929 million. On the final day to do so, then-minority owner Kroenke invoked his right of first refusal to purchase the remaining percentage of the team. The original intended buyer, Shahid Khan, later acquired the Jacksonville Jaguars after the 2011 season.

Due to NFL rules, in order to complete the transaction, Kroenke would need to sell his other teams in which a current NFL team is located. At the time, Kroenke Sports Enterprises owned the Denver Nuggets, Colorado Avalanche, Colorado Rapids, and the Pepsi Center (home to the Nuggets and the Avalanche). On August 25, 2010, the NFL unanimously approved him as the owner contingent on the divestment of his other teams. Kroenke would comply, transferring ownership of the Nuggets, Avalanche, and the Pepsi Center to his son Josh Kroenke.

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