ST. LOUIS (KMOX) – This isn’t a column about Stan Kroenke, the cold, greedy, loser owner who ripped a team out of a supportive community to line his own pockets.
It also isn’t about player safety, which is threatening the future of the sport both locally and nationally. (Although that is certainly an important, ongoing discussion worthy of a series of columns.)
This is about people, the changing of the seasons, summer to fall, marching bands and cheerleaders, charcoal smoke, cold beverages, hot beverages, perfect spirals, stadium lights, public address announcers, headsets, shoulder pads, the flip of a coin on the 50.
Flipping the calendar from August to September is still about football in St. Louis – still as meaningful as ever in this area.
Recently, in St. Charles County, I was making conversation with a dad and his 7th grade daughter. He was eating his lunch and she was being polite, listening along. It’s an interesting stage in life, a teenager who would rather look at her phone than chat with a couple of 40-somethings. Knowing she had just started school at Francis Howell, I tossed a question out to both of them:
“How about those Vikings?”
Their heads snapped to attention, eyes lit up. They looked at each other, then back to me.
“It was awesome,” they said, almost in unison. The night before, the Francis Howell Vikings opened the football season with a 49-19 home win over Mehlville, exciting an overflowing stadium of kids, alums and parents.
“You have to come to a game,” said the dad. The daughter smiled and nodded.
And I realized, right there, that football still brings generations together.
Saturday, on the campus where protests and tension escalated in 2015, Mizzou will continue its rebuild by welcoming people from all over the state for a game against… Missouri State. Fans in St. Louis (like those in Springfield, KC and places in between) will make the trek to Columbia, some with tiger tails hanging off the backs of their vehicles.
Like many, I’ll think about my dad, a devoted Tiger who made sure we always arrived plenty early so we could visit with old friends. We caught up with people on the Missouri staff and in the tailgate lots. I watched Phil Bradley play quarterback while in my father’s arms. I listened to Warren Powers, Woody Widenhofer and Bob Stull press conferences. I tossed a football and pretended I was Marlon Adler. I dreamed big that the Tigers would one day play for the national championship, something that almost became reality during the Gary Pinkel era.
Today, Mizzou, through its declining enrollment, is still raising millions of dollars through donations. Stadium improvements and football facility upgrades have been approved. While its resurgent basketball program steals headlines, fans will pin their hopes on an improved Barry Odom defense to lead them to a bowl game. Hopefully, football can play a role in healing a university.
St. Louis, the nation’s only city in the footprint of both the SEC and the Big Ten, will also see Illini fans traveling northeast to Champaign for Illinois-Ball State, the opener of a season that includes visits from Nebraska and Wisconsin this year. Illini fans are crossing their fingers that former NFL coach Lovie Smith can lift the program back to its Rose Bowl days.
Ohio State, which opened its season Thursday night at Indiana, has a large St. Louis alumni club that watches games at Buffalo Wild Wings in Creve Coeur. Michigan fans gather at Lester’s in Ladue.
Iowa alums play the fight song over the speakers at Weber’s Front Row in Webster Groves. That’s also where Kansas City Chiefs fans tailgate, before they go inside to watch the game on Sundays. True story.
St. Louis is the largest market in the country without an NFL team. Which makes it America’s largest NFL melting pot, with fans of the Chiefs, Bears, Cowboys, Steelers, Packers, Broncos all scrambling to get in front of a TV. (And yes, the ratings for Rams games are still better here than in Los Angeles. It’s called hate-watching.)
Baseball town? Of course. Hockey hotbed? Absolutely, with the sport exploding among STL youth like never before.
Still think St. Louis isn’t a football town, though? Tell that to Edwardsville, hosting CBC on Friday night. Or Eureka, coming off last week’s win over Francis Howell, taking on Pattonville. The kids who will walk into a brand new stadium at MICDS on Saturday for a home opener against Lutheran South. The families who will flock to Kirkwood-Lafayette.
And then there’s the best team in the area, East St. Louis, taking on Louisiana power Evangel Christian Academy in the Gateway Scholarship Football Classic on Saturday night. East St. Louis is so good, the Flyers bring in opponents from around the country. Last week, they defeated New Lenox Providence Catholic, a Chicago-area school that has won ten state championships. (East St. Louis has won eight state titles, including last year’s perfect 14-0 season.)
How popular are the Flyers? Last year’s Gateway Scholarship Classic was East St. Louis vs. CBC, and reports had the crowd at well over 10,000.
How many were at that Rams-Chargers preseason game last week, Stan?