Moving is always painful.
Especially for the loyal fans of professional sports franchises who feel betrayed by money-grubbing owners who leave them in the lurch while searching for greener [as in cash] pastures. Most franchise relocations are centered around stadium deals. It is the most popular form of extortion: the city pays for the stadium and the team takes the money, or the owner threatens to move if not given his way. And when clubs find a new home, resentments stir and hearts are broken. Brooklynites are still not over losing the Dodgers more than a half-century ago. It’s hard to explain the North Stars leaving hockey-crazed Minnesota for Dallas or the Sonics – Seattle’s pride and joy – jetting off to Oklahoma City.
Today we review ten of the most groundbreaking franchise relocations in professional football history.
The Baltimore Colts were the first NFL team to have cheerleaders, a marching band and a fight song. The proud and successful franchise that gave us Johnny U was more Baltimore than crab. That is until Bob Irsay, one of the biggest jackasses in sports, bought the team. In March 1984, the cowardly Irsay secretly moved the Colts to Indianapolis in the middle of the night. Following the move, the great Frank Deford wrote: “A man who could screw up professional football in Baltimore would foul the water at Lourdes or flatten the beer at Munich.”
Founded as Los Angeles’ AFL franchise in 1960, the Chargers shared the Coliseum with the Rams during their inaugural season. San Diego newspaper writer Jack Murphy then successfully lobbied for the struggling team to head south, where they played for the next 56 seasons. The Bolts returned to LA in 2017, where they will again play share a stadium with [and play second fiddle to] the Rams.
Has any franchise traveled a more circuitous path – with less success – than the Cardinals? Hatched in Chicago in 1920, the Cards merged with the Pittsburgh Steelers for one season during World War II. Tired of taking a back seat to the Bears, they flew the Windy City for St. Louis in 1960 then continued their western migration 28 years later. The Redbirds called themselves the “Phoenix Cardinals” from 1988 to 1993 and have gone with “Arizona Cardinals” since. New nests, same Birds.
The Houston Oilers began in 1960 as a charter member of the AFL. After strong-arming taxpayers to spend $67 million to update their Astrodome home, owner Bud Adams pivoted and moved the team to Nashville. With no home stadium, the Tennessee Oilers played for two years in Memphis. In 1999, the Oilers became the “Tennessee Titans” and moved into their current stadium in Music City.
A charter AFL franchise, the Texans played three seasons in Dallas. After winning the 1962 AFL title, owner Lamar Hunt took his team to Kansas City, where they were renamed the “Chiefs” and have flourished.
The Cleveland Rams were founded in 1936. After winning the 1945 NFL championship, the Rams bolted for the sunshine of Los Angeles. Prior to the 1995 season, they relocated to St. Louis, where the Greatest Show on Turf teams played in two Super Bowls. The more things change the more they stay the same: the Rams returned to L.A. in 2015 and will soon share a stadium with the Chargers.
The Raiders are a mess. Founded as the AFL Oakland Raiders in 1960, they moved to Los Angeles in 1982. From 1982 to 1994, the Los Angeles Raiders played at the L.A. Coliseum, as the Rams had shifted their home games to Anaheim. The Silver and Black returned to their Oakland roots in 1995 but plan on skipping to Las Vegas next season. Shame on the NFL for not keeping the Raiders in Oakland.
Following the departure of the Rams, the Cleveland Browns began play in the All American Football Conference in 1946. When that league folded after four seasons, the Browns joined the NFL along with the San Francisco 49ers and Baltimore Colts. The Brownies were beloved in Cleveland, which meant nothing to owner Art Modell. In 1996, “Benedict Art” took his Browns to Baltimore, where they became the “Ravens.”
The Boston Braves were founded in 1932. They moved into Fenway Park the following season and changed their name to “Redskins.” Boston wasn’t much of a football town then and didn’t support the team. In 1937, the franchise moved to D.C. and has played as the Washington Redskins for over eight decades.
George Halas bought the Decatur Staleys in 1920, then moved his team three hours north to Chicago in 1921. The franchise – currently in its centennial season — was renamed the “Bears” in 1922.