The Connecticut Rams? How the Rams almost moved to Hartford

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?
Hartford, Connecticut.

Hartford was one of the cities courting the Rams in the early 90s.

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.

Artist rendering of the over $200 Million proposed stadium modeled after the L.A. Coliseum north of Interstate 84

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.

Walter Payton and Paul Newman were both in a group that wanted to bring the NFL to Connecticut

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.

In 1995 the Rams officially moved to St. Louis

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.

The Stadium’s original site is now a baseball team for the city’s Double A franchise.

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.

A Step in the Right Direction? Or the Final Nail in the Coffin? How new Stadium impacts the Hartford Whalers

How does the new 60 Million $ Stadium in Hartford impact the Whalers?

How does the new 60 Million $ Stadium in Hartford impact the Whalers?

On June 4th it was revealed that the city of Hartford was undertaking a huge project in an effort to revitalize the downtown area. The City announced plans to build a 60$ million dollar stadium downtown that will be completed in 2016. The stadium, which will seat 9,000 spectators, will be the future home of the New Britain Rock Cats whose lease in New Britain expires in 2015. While the negotiations between Hartford and the ball club have caused a stir, mainly because New Britain feels betrayed because the team did not alert them of the possibility of a move, the big question that comes from this is who does this impact the NHL’s return to Hartford.

Since 1997 the question that has lingered is will the NHL return to Hartford? With this new stadium there are two school of thoughts. Either this new stadium will help push the city to build a new arena, or the new ballpark will prevent the city from exploring a new hockey arena.

Is Hartford making an effort to make itself more attractive for the NHL?

Is Hartford making an effort to make itself more attractive for the NHL?

For some people, they think this ballpark helps the Whalers. If the ballpark helps to revitalize downtown Hartford. If it attracts large crowds and is a financial success, it maybe the spring-board for building a new arena in the Hartford area. On the surface the stadium seems like a good idea, especially for the NHL in the city, but it is a huge mistake.

Who are the New Britain Rock Cats? They are a Double A baseball team. It amazes me that the city of Hartford has made such an effort to acquire a minor league franchise rather than try to lure a professional franchise. Look, I understand that this sounds like a good idea, but it could come back to haunt the city. The Rock Cats currently play 15 minutes aways, was it really worth it the spend 60$ million to move them closer? Instead of building a minor league baseball stadium, especially with baseball’s popularity declining, Hartford should have invested in a new arena. They won’t build a 200$ million dollars arena that could host an NHL franchise, UConn basketball, concerts, and other events ? Let’s face it. UConn basketball is the most popular sports franchise in the state. Why not build an arena for them? This just seems like a short-sighted and almost a conciliation prize type of move by the city. We won’t invest in a new arena but here’s minor league baseball enjoy.

It still is a long road for the NHL to return to Hartford in the future. The hope for Whalers’ fans is that this downtown ballpark will be a step in the right direction. A building block for revitalizing downtown and pushing the city to build a new arena. However, this could be a bad investment that will deter the city from investing in a new arena that an NHL franchise would need. Either way, the city’s decision to build this new ballpark will greatly impact the future of the Whalers in Hartford. Here’s hoping this ballpark will be the first step in bring an NHL franchise back to Connecticut.

Connecticut #1 in all of college sports?

The Champs are here!

The Champs are here!

In a span of 24 hours the melting pot of college basketball wasn’t Dallas or Nashville, but Storrs Connecticut. For the second time in history the UConn men’s and women’s basketball teams are the National Champions at the same time. The school is now an incredible 13-0 in National Title games with four men’s championships and a record best nine National Championships for the women. 2014 will be remembered for the historic run of the men’s team after going through the ringer the previous season and the sheer dominance the women’s program which once again ran the table with 40 wins. After this week the main question shouldn’t be about UConn’s dominance, but the state’s dominance as a whole. Is Connecticut becoming one of if not the best state in the nation for college sports?

Hockey is on the rise in the Nutmeg state

Hockey is on the rise in the Nutmeg state

I can already hear the yelling and screaming already. What are you nuts? Connecticut the best state for college sports? Blasphemous! But is it? In the span of twelve months the state has won 4 National Championships. Last year, Yale won the hockey National Championship to go with the three championships the Huskies added, two in basketball one in field hockey. We all know about basketball. The UConn men remain one of the best programs in the country, and the women are in a league of their own. However, the nutmeg state has become a hotbed for college hockey. Last year both Yale and Quinnipiac made it to the finals in hockey and both have been perennial powers for years with consistent top 15 rankings in the country. With UConn hockey moving into Hockey East and steadily improving, the question is becoming when not if another team from the Constitution state will win the National Championship.

Yeah, but what about football? True Connecticut is not a football state, this isn’t Alabama with the Crimson Tide and Auburn. I think that is pretty obvious, but across the board the other sports in this state prove that Connecticut is the cream of the crop in college sports. Field Hockey? UConn won the National Championship in 2013. Baseball? UConn reached the regionals for the first time in 2013. Along with these national appearances the Connecticut schools have won numerous conference championships across the board.

Connecticut could soon be the place to be.

Connecticut could soon be the place to be.

With already established powerhouses, and strong up and comers, the Nutmeg state could soon be more than just the center of college basketball, but the NCAA universe as well. With some of the greatest underrated fan bases in the country, it’s not hard to see why Connecticut loves it’s college teams. With dominance in basketball and hockey, if Connecticut can establish another team or teams that become perennial powers, it will be hard to argue that Connecticut is not a great home for college sports, but “the home” for college sports.

 

U Conn Do it! Why UCONN needs to build a new hockey arena

If UCONN hockey wants to make it to the big time, they need a new arena

If UCONN hockey wants to make it to the big time, they need a new arena

In 2014-2015 the Connecticut Huskies will enter new territory. Starting next year, the UCONN hockey team will be joining one of the better leagues in college hockey, Hockey East. At this point many people may even be asking “wait, UCONN has a hockey team”? It’s easy to be forgotten at a school known for its powerhouse basketball programs, and its recent dominance in soccer and baseball. Not to mention a school whose effort to build a national football program has gone off the rails in the past few years. By joining Hockey East, the hockey team will now be entering the big time. It’s been a program that’s been heading in the right direction. With more scholarships and an impressive 19-14-4 2012-2013 season, the program is ready to make some noise on the Storrs campus. There’s just one problem.

Let me see scholarships? Check. New uniforms? Check. A new coach with National Championship credentials? Check. A suitable arena to house the team? Oh there’s the problem. The Huskies do not have a suitable home which could be the final piece to the hockey puzzle. The solution? Give them the home they deserve. After years of pouring millions of dollars into the other athletic programs, it’s time for UCONN to invest in their hockey program’s future. Despite being built-in 1998, the Mark Edward Freitas Ice Forum is not a suitable home. This arena was built for a second-rate college hockey program,  which UCONN was at the time, but now it’s a joke that a Hockey East team calls this home. While the hockey program has announced that the Hockey East games will be played at the XL Center in Hartford, this is just another problem. The massive 15,000 seat arena can barely be filled for a UCONN basketball game and will look empty even if 5,000 fans show up to a hockey game. On top of that the arena is outdated, 30 minutes from campus, and will cost the school about 25,000$ to play a game there. What’s the solution to all of this? Build this team a new arena.

The Huskies need to build a facility that will not only house this team for the future, but to use as a tool to recruit top prospects. Let’s face it, despite the direction of the program, the arena situation is a major turnoff. If I’m a recruit do I want to play in two arenas that are terrible, or go to a beautiful arena of a Hockey East rival? Sounds like an easy decision easy to me. If UCONN wants to be successful in hockey just look 40 minutes south at Quinnipiac University.

After building their 52 million dollar TD Bank North Sports Center basketball and hockey complex in 2007, the Quinnipiac Bobcats program blossomed. Coach Rand Pecknold has even said that the arena is one of the biggest recruiting tools and why they have been able to become on of college hockey’s premiere programs. Six years after opening their new arena, the Quinnipiac Bobcats were playing for a National Championship, in large part because they used their arena as a major recruitment tool. UCONN has the resources and space to build a new arena. A 3000-4500 seat arena would be an adequate sized arena for this team. Bigger then their current arena but not as colossal as the XL Center. Plus, they can add all the bells and whistles to make it a state of the art home that will make Hockey East rivals envious. With Connecticut now becoming one of the better locations in the country for college hockey, thanks to Quinnipiac and the National Champion Yale Bulldogs, the state of Connecticut is becoming a major player in college hockey. We’ve seen how quickly the Yale and Quinnipiac programs have emerged onto the national stage, with nowhere near the resources that UCONN possesses. If UCONN builds a new arena and uses that as a great recruiting tool, I predict within 5 years after the arena’s completion UCONN will be a nationally ranked program. Hockey has always been a staple in New England culture, shouldn’t one of New England’s best schools share in the tradition of great hockey?  I’m not saying that UCONN can’t be great in hockey without a new arena, but it would defiantly speed up the process. Remember what they always said in Field of Dreams? If you build it they will come! If UCONN builds it, great hockey will come. Who knows. Maybe one UCONN hockey and basketball teams will be fighting over who can win the most National Championships and who is truly Connecticut’s team.

20 man Wolf Pack: Whale to be renamed

The CT Whale experiment has come to an end

The CT Whale experiment has come to an end

After three years of trying to re-establish the “whaler brand” in Hartford, the hopes of bringing back an NHL franchise took another hit this week. The team announced that it will be abandoning the “Whale” namesake and return to being  called the Hartford Wolf Pack. Despite failing it’s main purpose, bringing the NHL back to the city, the Whale created a  greater buzz with the fan base then the Wolf Pack. I think this is a mistake, because people in the community were willing to embrace the team once it honored the previous history in Hartford. Now the green and blue will be replaced by the red, white, and blue of the New York Rangers. At first glance this may not seem like a big deal, but to die heart Connecticut hockey fans it is. The Rangers were one of the biggest rivals of the Whalers, and it’s very difficult to love any part of your rival. It’s as if the love of your life left then soon after your rival drops their kid off at your door and tells you to love it the same way. When the Rangers told Hartford that the new minor league team would look nothing like the Rangers the fans of Hartford were pleased. However, this wasn’t the case as the Wolf Pack looked just like the Rangers with the same uniforms and colors. The death of the Whale is

The Wolf Pack are back, but will have a hard time appealing to Whaler Nation

The Wolf Pack are back, but will have a hard time appealing to Whaler Nation

unfortunately another failed attempt to once again attract a pro franchise to Hartford. With the declining health of the XL Center, and the lack of interest now that the team is no longer the Whale is another nail in the coffin for future NHL hockey in Hartford. I know for me its disappointing the Wolf Pack are coming back. At least the Whale reminded the city of it’s once great hockey tradition rather than having our rival shove their minor league squad down Hartford’s throat. Despite the Whale’s departure, the provided a great run filled with honoring past traditions and creating new memories such as Whaler Fest. This may be another punch to the gut regarding the future of the NHL in Connecticut, but as long as there is still hope and determination, it is one dream that can never die.

 

 

Bring back the Brass Bonanza!!!!! How Connecticut can get an NHL team back and why they need to

Hartford has been with hockey since 1997

Hartford has been without hockey since 1997

April 13, 1997 is a date that probably doesn’t mean much to you. Just another day that passed on the calendar without anything significant occurring. However, this was a day that would live in Connecticut infamy. After defeating the Tampa Bay Lightning  by a score of 2-1 the Hartford Whalers where history. These Whalers were just another casualty in a decade filled with more shuffling of NHL franchises then a card game at the casino. Hartford joined the likes of Quebec, Minnesota, and Winnipeg as cities that lost their beloved franchises to other cities. While hockey has returned to Minnesota and most recently Winnipeg, the fans of the Brass Bonanza are still awaiting for the Whalers to come home.

I guess you could say that the Whalers were just in the wrong place at the wrong time. Victims of a new owner, who never intended on keeping the franchise in Hartford. A state whose Governor who was trying to lure the New England Patriots from Foxboro down to the insurance capital of America. Governor Rowland felt it was more important to try to lure a different team to the state instead of keeping the one it already had. Long story short, the Whalers were moved to Carolina, while Robert Kraft stabbed the whole state in the back when it was revealed that he just used the relocation to Connecticut as  a ploy in order to gain leverage to build Gillette stadium in Foxboro. Now you know why  Connecticut doesn’t have that many Patriots fans.

With the current state of the NHL with teams like Phoenix, New Jersey, Florida, and Dallas struggling to fill their arenas, the next great migration of teams moving might have just commenced. We may look back and say this movement was started by the Thrashers moving to Winnipeg.  The biggest knock on Connecticut is the lack of an NHL arena. The current arena, the XL center, is old and incredibly outdated. A new downtown arena is essential for not just hockey, but for the well-being of the city. A city that desperately needs to revitalize its downtown community.

It's an uphill battle but with the right course of action hockey could be back

It’s an uphill battle but with the right course of action hockey could be back

The UCONN Huskies are without a doubt the biggest draw in Connecticut.  No surprise there, with multiple National Championships the Huskies are a National power that gives us Nutmegers a sense of pride. With the UCONN hockey team entering the fold in 2014 couple with the declining XL center, it’s not if but when a new arena should be built. The goal of this new arena would not be to just bring in an NHL franchise but rather give UCONN a state of the art arena for years to come. This new arena would  bring in more events such as NCAA regional tournaments while bringing money to a state that is cash strapped. Not to mention it could be a major tool to recruit top talent in order for UCONN to continue their dominance on the hardwood. The success of the MTS Centre in Winnipeg proves the arena wouldn’t have to be a colossal arena. A 15,000 seat arena would be a perfect size for both collegiate and  professional teams to fill the seats.

While there are many other roadblocks preventing the Whalers homecoming, such as current teams affairs and television contracts, step one is to build a new arena. Remember Field of Dreams? If you build it they will come ! Money is a big issue with financing this arena but if the state realizes the benefits of the UCONN Huskies athletic programs it makes sense. Sure the ultimate goal is to bring in an NHL team, but it’s a process. The Whalers had one of the most loyal fan bases and left not because of poor fan attendance but because of a miser owner and a governor who gambled on the NFL and lost. Connecticut needs to improve its sports infrastructure for its college basketball

Whalers fans still miss their beloved team

Whalers fans still miss their beloved team

teams. If they build an arena to help UCONN, then the pipe dream of NHL hockey could become a reality. Hartford was the Green Bay of the NHL in America and represented the unique passion  and love that New Englanders have for the game. The NHL experiment in the Southern U.S. has had mixed to terrible results. Now maybe the best time for Gary Bettman to look north, where hockey belongs. With the success of the Whalers winter festival at Rentschler field over a year ago proved that their still is a strong fan base. While critics argue that minor league attendance has been poor in Hartford minor league hockey to the people of this great state is like beer without alcohol. Once you’ve had the real thing anything less  won’t suffice. When the minor league team changed its named to the CT Whale instead of the Wolf Pack season ticket sales increased by 36%. Coincidence? I think not!!!

The Whalers have such a great history and arguably one of the greatest sports logos in history. What I’m saying is that the city of Hartford has the chance to kill two birds with one stone. Not only improve the playing arena for the UCONN Hockey and basketball teams but at least give the state a chance to get a NHL team back. The road ahead is without question going to be a long and hard one to get the NHL back. But if Hartford takes that first step by investing in UCONN, the state’s best asset who knows? Maybe the sounds of the brass bonanza  will echo through downtown Hartford once again. Please fell free to comment and follow my blog. I would love to hear what suggestions you have for me and what you would like me to write about. You a Whalers fan? Would love to hear from you! Like the Whalers? click these links below Thanks !!

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