When a professional sports franchise leaves a city, it takes a little bit of the hearts of the fans with them. The Raiders moved from Oakland to Los Angeles and were welcomed back, no hard feelings. The Browns left for Baltimore and the late Art Modell never could go back to Cleveland without fearing for his life. And of course Baltimore, who "stole" the Browns/Ravens, until very recently, still wouldn't acknowledge the Colts by putting their name on the scoreboard, listing them simply as "Indy."
St. Louisans who grew up in the 1960s, 70s and 80s know their pain. Even though the city has embraced the Rams (who left Los Angeles as of yet orphaned) and celebrated a Super Bowl with them, there are still several hearts permanently linked to the football Cardinals.
So when the Arizona Cardinals come to town Sunday to kick off the 2013 season, some fans of a certain age will be cheering on the Rams, but with a bit of melancholy, remembering the team of their youth.
Of course the Cardinals weren't born in St. Louis. They relocated to the Gateway City from Chicago in 1960 after living in the shadow of the Bears for four decades. Their stay was nearly a brief one as the Bidwill brothers (Bill and Charles) wanted to move the team to Atlanta because they were dissatisfied playing their games at Sportman's Park. When the city came through with the building of the first Busch Stadium, they were persuaded to stay.
What followed was two decades of futility, fueled by the Bidwill's reluctance to spend money on scouting and player development. This was compounded when, after the AFL/NFL merger, the Cardinals were locked into the NFC East along with Dallas, Washington, the New York Giants and Philadelphia. Each of those teams would reach at least one Super Bowl before the Cardinals left in 1987. The Cardinals never even reached the NFC Championship.
Still, the Cardinals weren't devoid of talent. Three NFL Hall of Famers played in St. Louis (Larry Wilson, Roger Wehrli and Dan Dierdorf). Jim Hart was one of the more underrated quarterbacks of his era and players like K Jim Bakken, WR Mel Gray and TE Jackie Smith werer regular Pro Bowlers at their positions.
Those who grew up rooting for the St. Louis Cardinals still have fond memories of those days in Busch Stadium. Most have some memory that connects them to their dads.
Matt Schaefer of O'Fallon remembers sharing season tickets on Sunday with his father from 1983 until the Cardinals left for Phoenix after the 1987 season. Jon Greene of Des Peres had a weekly appointment with his dad every Sunday, watching the Cardinals on television. When his father took him to a game against, Dallas, John was hooked, even though he can't even remember today who won the game.
They had pennants, took Cardinals lunch boxes to school, and proudly wore their Jim Hart and Larry Wilson jerseys. They cheered for players from Terry Metcalf and Stump Mitchell, from Pat Tilley to Roy Green. They watched intently as "Air Coryell" lit up the St. Louis skies.
When Bill Bidwill decided to move the team to Phoenix, something was lost. For some, it established a grudge that was never quite forgiven.
Matt Schaefer told us:
"For the first couple years, yes, I kept rooting for them. My dad didn't though, he wanted then to lose because he hated Bidwill."
Don and Merlene Jackson of O'Fallon remember the boos that cascaded throughout Busch Stadium as they and the Southern Illinois marching band were performing at halftime. Don quickly realized the boos were not a reaction to the show. Bill Bidwill had made an appearance on the field.
Most fans, like Michael from Troy, Ill. have moved on, however. For him, he's past the hurt of losing the Cardinals and is grateful they got him "hooked" on the NFL. Some, like Jon Greene, even cheered on the Cardinals (and former Ram Kurt Warner) when they played in the Super Bowl.
At one time, they bled Cardinal red. Now, it's Rams blue and gold. Once, their cheers filled the old Busch Stadium. Now the only Cardinals they recognize play baseball in a new Busch Stadium.
On Sunday, their allegiance will be squarely with the Rams, their time cheering on the "Big Red" a distant memory.
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