Magazine article Newsweek

NFL Move to L.A.? Wrong! Make Rams the Billings Bighorns; the St. Louis Rams, Who Are Returning to Los Angeles, Should Be Moving to Montana

Magazine article Newsweek

NFL Move to L.A.? Wrong! Make Rams the Billings Bighorns; the St. Louis Rams, Who Are Returning to Los Angeles, Should Be Moving to Montana

Article excerpt

Byline: John Walters

Updated | Los Angeles Rams? Sounds vaguely familiar.

Billings Bighorns? That would have sounded tremendous.

Last Tuesday, Stan Kroenke, who owns the St. Louis Rams, announced that the franchise would be returning to southern California after a 21-year absence. The news did not cause traffic to stop in Los Angeles--and not just because that's already the default mode on its freeways. Angelenos mostly greeted the news with a "Cool, bro," and returned to tracking their daily fantasy lineups.

While it makes fiscal sense for a monolith like the NFL to have a team in Los Angeles, the country's second-largest metropolitan area, the move is uninspired and conservative. In other words, it could have been drawn up by 90 percent of the league's offensive coordinators.

The Rams are returning to Los Angeles. Yawn. But what if they had decided to, for example, migrate to Montana? What if the Rams had moved to a state named after a four-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback? What if the team now fleeing St. Louis, the origin point of the Lewis and Clark expedition, had relocated to the town where Captain William Clark once etched his name (on a slab at Pompeys Pillar)?

Who wouldn't root for the Billings Bighorns? The team's fans would tailgate along the Yellowstone River, proudly donning shirts that read, "Talk is sheep!" Kids all over the state and beyond would proudly refer to themselves as Little Bighorns. Those Montanans whose births predate the first Super Bowl might be known as the team's Old Faithful. Every time the Bighorns scored, a geyser would erupt behind an end zone. From Missoula to Miles City, an NFL franchise based in Montana would incite Ram-demonium.

"We would love the Billings Bighorns to be located at Montana's Trailhead," says the president and CEO of the city's chamber of commerce, John Brewer, referencing the city's nickname. "And I think that there could be some land carved out for a football stadium and parking facility too."

Before you scoff--oh, too late?--think about the possibilities. The town of Green Bay, Wisconsin, home to the most devoted fans in the NFL, has approximately 105,000 people. Billings, the largest city in Montana, has a population of 109,000. True, Green Bay draws fans from Milwaukee and all of Wisconsin, but Billings would draw pilgrims from throughout Montana, as well as its four neighboring states (Idaho, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming), none of which have an NFL franchise.

In fact, if NFL commissioner Roger Goodell were searching a map for the epicenter of the Lower 48 that has yet to be colonized by an NFL franchise, he would place a thumbtack in Billings. The closest NFL franchise is Denver, which is 554 miles--or about the distance between Jacksonville and New Orleans--south. The nearest NFL franchise to the west, the Seattle Seahawks, is 817 miles away, while the nearest to the east, the Minnesota Vikings, is 840 miles away. "We have two NFL season-ticket holders in my office alone," says Brewer, noting co-workers who root for the Broncos and Seahawks.

A Seahawks season-ticket holder in Billings? That, in terms of distance, is the equivalent of being a Pittsburgh Steelers season-ticket holder while living in Kansas City. But who cares? This is Montana. Big Sky country. Where the speed limit is 80 miles per hour and the horizon is more expansive than Vince Wolfork's backside. …

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