ST. LOUIS – Missouri’s professional football landscape has changed significantly over the last decade. The St. Louis Rams completed their move back to Los Angeles in 2016. And on the other side of the state, the Kansas City Chiefs are Super Bowl-bound for the fourth time in five years.
Inevitably, some St. Louis football fans who felt betrayed when the Rams left have grown attached to Chiefs Kingdom. The notoriety of Patrick Mahomes, Travis Kelce and Andy Reid, in addition to their sustained run of success, gives Kansas City plenty of appeal for those in need of football glory.
Does this necessarily mean St. Louis fans should feel obligated to root for the Chiefs in this year’s Super Bowl and beyond?
As FOX 2 Sports Director Martin Kilcoyne put it last year in a TKO report, not exactly. He sees three common trends when it comes to St. Louisans and their stance on the Chiefs.
1) There are locals who despise the NFL and mentions of the league since the Rams departed, ultimately not giving them motivation to cheer on the Chiefs.
2) There are fans who have embraced Chiefs culture, some even to a die-hard extent, that think more St. Louisans should get on board.
3) There are fans in a middle ground who understand the Chiefs’ recent success, but don’t want the Chiefs shoved down their throats just because they are in Missouri and share an Interstate 70 connection with St. Louis.
The third group makes for quite an interesting case study. For most part, they enjoy watching football, but they can’t really rally behind a team that’s several hours away from their city. They’re also likely bitter about some history that ties the Kansas City Chiefs to St. Louis.
Let’s dig into that…
Lamar Hunt founded the Kansas City Chiefs as an American Football League team in 1960. Clark Hunt is now the chairman of the Chiefs through the Hunt Sports Group, a role he inherited from his father after his father’s death in 2006.
As the Chiefs entered the AFL, St. Louis became the home of the NFL’s Cardinals franchise, which relocated from Chicago after the 1959 season. Before then, Lamar Hunt reportedly attempted to purchase the Cardinals and move them to Dallas. That never happened, but imagine how different St. Louis’ professional football history, and perhaps the NFL, might look without 27 years of “The Big Red.”
A St. Louis Cardinals Football History account on X (formerly Twitter) also chimed in during a discussion with Martin Kilcoyne last year that Lamar Hunt “threatened to block the AFL coming to STL if the Cardinals had moved to Atlanta in 1964.” There’s not much documentation of that, but reports elsewhere make it clear the NFL Cardinals sought Atlanta as a potential destination while their stadium situation was ambiguous during their early run in St. Louis.
Like the previous would-be scenario, it’s not so much that it didn’t happen, but the notion that either could have and denied the Gateway City more professional football history might lead to some animosity among older St. Louis football followers who remember those times. The Chiefs spent nearly a decade in the AFL and participated in the first-ever Super Bowl before joining the NFL in a 1970 merger.
Fast forward nearly three decades later, most of that time to the tune of mediocre football in St. Louis, the NFL Cardinals moved to Arizona after the 1987 season. Lamar Hunt and 25 other NFL owners approved the terms for relocation, ultimately ending one chapter of professional football in St. Louis.
It only took eight years for the NFL to return to St. Louis, this time with the NFL Rams franchise moving from Los Angeles. When that happened, it seemed Lamar Hunt was initially hesitant on supporting another franchise in Missouri, once telling the Los Angeles Times in 1994, “I personally favor stability in franchise location.”
The Rams won Super Bowl XXXIV in St. Louis and followed that up with a few strong years known as “The Greatest Show On Turf” era. As St. Louis’ team, the Rams last made playoffs in 2004 and fell into a prolonged rut that eventually paved the way for them to move back to Los Angeles in 2016.
The Chiefs ownership group and 29 others voted in support of the move, again ending a chapter of NFL football in St. Louis. According to a 2016 NBC Sports report, Clark Hunt hinted he “actually was not in favor of St. Louis moving,” but that opposition to some extent came with how it might affect competition with the Chargers and Raiders within their AFC West Division, both who followed suit and moved from San Diego and Oakland after the Rams.
Coincidentally, the Chiefs have built strong teams since they became Missouri’s only NFL franchise, averaging around 11 wins per season since the Rams moved and reaching at least the AFC Championship in their last six seasons.
It’s not necessarily cause-and-effect that the Chiefs became dominant because the Rams left, but perhaps the timing of their surge, paired with some past actions that didn’t fully back football in St. Louis, likely contributed to the divided loyalties and ambivalence among the Gateway City’s football fans.
The Chiefs will play the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl LVIII, a rematch from the big game four years ago. Kickoff is set for 5:30 p.m. Your local CBS affiliate will carry the broadcast.