first_imgThe coffee cup still sits on Peter O”Malley’s desk.The Dodgers logo, in that familiar cursive script, is on the cup. But the baseball that flies out of that logo is replaced by a football.Underneath, there is a date: 199?It represents what might have been, the first and best replacement of the Rams and Raiders, who left after the 1994 season. But a Dodgers NFL team, under whatever name they decided, would have been the best way.“Dick Riordan called me and said, ‘We have a football problem,’” O’Malley said the other day, referring to the then-Los Angeles mayor.The NFL would add a 32nd team. O’Malley took the hint and began familiarizing himself with the NFL, including an up-and-coming expansion coordinator named Roger Goodell. O’Malley formed a particular bond with Jerry Richardson, then as now the owner of the Carolina Panthers and a key man on expansion projects.“We were going to build the new stadium just south of Dodger Stadium,” O’Malley said. “Back then, baseball teams weren’t making the kind of money they are today. But football teams were. We felt we could use the football money to renovate Dodger Stadium.”But O’Malley is also a consensus builder, and the L.A. politicians were still partial to The Coliseum. They didn’t support O’Malley’s plan, and Riordan called again, to tell him it was doomed.“As I said at the time, you can’t fight City Hall,” O’Malley said. “It was not a sure thing because, at that time, you couldn’t own an NFL team and another pro sports team. But I think we would have overcome that.”Two years later O’Malley sold the Dodgers to Fox, who eventually sold them to Frank McCourt, and the Dodgers were soon defined by their question marks. Mike Piazza was traded and an entire Dodgers season was consumed by a divorce trial. And, of course, the Dodgers haven’t been back to a World Series.Football fans weren’t worried, though. They knew the NFL would award an expansion franchise to Michael Ovitz and his Carson plan, or his Coliseum plan, or his Hollywood Park plan. Or maybe Ed Roski and Eli Broad and their Coliseum plan.Instead, it went to Bob McNair and his Houston plan, thanks to a $700 million bid, but also thanks to L.A.’s fractious atmosphere and the ambivalence of the city fathers.R.D. Hubbard, then Marvin Davis, both looked at Hollywood Park. Phil Anschutz and AEG devised Farmers Field, next to Staples Center, and even sold naming rights. Roski unveiled a City of Industry site.The illusion of activity turned Los Angeles into the Imaginary Friend. NFL franchises used L.A.’s faraway allure to browbeat their cities for new stadiums. Goodell, now the NFL commissioner, told Minnesota’s skeptical legislators the Vikings would be retracing the journey of Jed Clampett unless they were given a new stadium. Voila!Other cities played the same game, but more quietly. Saints owner Tom Benson broke off talks with Louisiana lawmakers about a Superdome renovation. Katrina visited the city a few days later and the Saints were driven to San Antonio. Benson was shamed into staying. Federal rehab money got him what he wanted.The Seahawks were even holding off-season practices at Rams Park in Anaheim while owner Ken Behring was considering a move. Instead, he was persuaded to sell to Paul Allen, provided Washington voted for a new stadium, which it did, barely.Finally, Stan Kroenke did what nobody else would. He bought the land, he sliced the red tape, he got a development partner, he made the move. All it took was a guy who really wanted it.Still, the best of all possible worlds is memorialized on Peter O’Malley’s desk, long before deflated footballs became famous. Had O’Malley wound up with an expansion NFL franchise in a football palace bordering Dodger Stadium, we might be looking at our 16th or 17th NFL campaign.Instead, L.A. skipped a football generation.Maybe that’s not all bad. Maybe the new Rams fans, who tune in for the season opener against San Francisco on Monday night and then fish out their old Dickerson and Ellard and Harrah jerseys and come to the home opener against Seattle on Sept. 18, will appreciate it more.The way they attended exhibition games and practices indicates a loud year in The Coliseum and, depending on how the Rams actually do, a chance for long-term love.Getting the Rams back, in a Tesla-grade stadium that will bring Super Bowls and maybe another Olympics, is not the worst way for this opus to end.center_img Newsroom GuidelinesNews TipsContact UsReport an Errorlast_img