On January 12th 2016, the NFL owners voted 30-2 in favor of moving the Rams back to Los Angeles after moving to St. Louis in 1995. It had been nearly two decades since the Rams called Los Angeles home with plans to build a state of the art facility in the coming years. However, what many people don’t realize is that before the move back to L.A. the Rams were in an intriguing position in the mid 90s. Back then they were a fledgling franchise that was desperate for a new stadium which led to their move to St. Louis. Did you know that their multiple cities bidding for the Rams including a city that many people couldn’t imagine hosting an NFL franchise.
In the early 90s the Rams popularity in L.A. had been waning. From 1990-1994 the Rams struggled on the field going 19 and 45 over that span. Like a lot of franchises in the 90s across the sports world, the Rams felt that they needed a state of the art facility to be competitive and claimed that Anaheim stadium in orange county needed to be addressed. By this time team owner Georgia Frontierre began looking for a new home for her franchise and began looking at potential destinations. While the front-runner and eventual winner was St. Louis, there were other cities that looked to lure the Rams including a surprising contender. Who was that contender?
At the time the city of Hartford and the state of Connecticut were looking to become major players in the sports world. After acquiring the New England Whalers and re-branding them to the Hartford Whalers, the city now had a professional hockey franchise since the late 70s. Despite average attendance for the NHL franchise the city began looking for another professional franchise, specifically the NFL. St. Louis remained the favorite offering a brand new state of the art indoor facility with the cities of Baltimore and Hartford offering their own stadium plans to lure the Rams. Baltimore had approved plans for a new stadium and were looking to add a franchise since the Colts famously left for Indianapolis.
In the early 90s, the Governor of Connecticut Lowell Weicker had developed a plan that would invest in a $252 Million dollar state of the art football stadium in the northern neighborhood of Hartford, just north of Interstate 84. The stadium was designed after the Los Angeles coliseum which could have been directly influenced to bring one of the two L.A. franchises to Connecticut.
Keep in mind in the early 90s both the Raiders and Rams were looking for either a new stadium in Los Angeles or a new market with a new stadium. The Raiders considered multiple locations in California before settling for Oakland with the Rams exploring new out-of-state potential markets. While this may seem like a pipe dream by state officials in Connecticut to lure a team to a the 27th television market in the country, the idea of moving football to Hartford did have serious backers.
Who would want football in Connecticut? Surprisingly, a strong group was lobbying for this idea. Hall of Fame running back Walter Payton was a member of this group and even visited the state to talk to governor Weicker at the capital about the project. Other members of the party included author Tom Clancy, and actors Tom Selleck and Paul Newman. Interestingly enough it was Newman who wanted professional football in his home state and he even tried to purchase the New England Patriots in 1994 before Robert Kraft purchased the team. There were skeptics, but Connecticut was the largest untapped market in the country without an NFL franchise and the city had agreed to fully finance a state of the art facility.
So why did the deal fall through? There were multiple reasons why the Rams to Hartford didn’t happen. First, St. Louis was the favorite and offered a larger market that had an NFL history. It also offered a brand new facility and despite relocation, the Rams wouldn’t need to change conferences or division. Moving to Hartford would have meant realignment for the entire NFL in order for the move to work.
Second, it was hard for the Rams to even get to St. Louis. The league’s owners originally voted down the move to St. Louis and only relented after the Rams ownership said they would sue the league. After long legal battles with the other Los Angeles franchise, the Raiders, and their efforts to relocate, the league didn’t want to go through another legal battle and relented despite opposition from multiple owners.
Third, if St. Louis hadn’t worked Baltimore was a better option for the league offering a larger market, another new stadium plan, and a history of NFL football. In 1996 they would get the Cleveland Browns after Art Modell moved the team after 1995 season forming the Baltimore Ravens.
Finally, the league just wasn’t interested in a smaller market like Hartford. I will elaborate on this more when I talk about the New England Patriots planned move to Hartford in 1998. While the state was serious about luring the NFL with two consecutive governors offering lucrative stadium deals, it just wasn’t going to lure and NFL franchise given the market size and proximity to larger markets in Boston and New York. This push for the NFL is a key contributor to why Hartford may have lost it’s NHL franchise, the Hartford Whalers but that will be discussed at a later date.
Today the site for the proposed stadium has become a sports stadium two decades later. The site is now home to Dunkin Donuts Park, a 6,000 seat stadium that’s home of the city’s minor league baseball team, the Hartford Yard Goats. Still Connecticut football fans can only imagine what could have been if Hartford has connected on a Hail Mary pass to bring professional football to Connecticut’s capital.
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