The purest example of the NFL’s priorities, and the league’s most ridiculous tradition, comes after the final whistle of the Super Bowl. Confetti rains down, a stage is constructed mid-field, and when the Lombardi Trophy is presented, the first person who gets to enjoy the fruits of a team’s labor is their owner, holding it aloft like a conquering monarch, before handing it off to those who actually deserve it.
Sure, the person who writes the checks has every right to celebrate — but it should never, ever come before the players and coaches that actually make a Super Bowl dream a reality. Owners speak in lofty terms, about how “we did it,” when their only real sacrifice came from signing some checks, and spending an afternoon in box seats each week. The NFL has normalized this to the point it feels fine, and it’s laughably ridiculous. Especially considering that more often than not owners hurt their fans, damage the communities that house their teams by taking tax dollars, do everything in their power in closed-door meetings to limit the rights of players, and generally make the game worse, as we saw with the league’s ridiculous “taunting” point of emphasis in 2021.
Every NFL owner is bad in varying degrees. If you want to defend an owner, cool. I promise they’re not going to give you money for celebrating them online. You might as well @ Elon Musk on Twitter as your get rich quick scheme, because it’s going to have the same result.
The point here is to highlight that regardless of who wins on Sunday night, either the Rams or the Bengals, the first person to hold the Lombardi Trophy aloft is going to be someone who sucks as a human being.
Stan Kroenke of the Rams sucks. He’s the NFL’s second-richest owner because he married Walmart heiress Ann Walton and used their family’s money to create a real estate empire in 1991. Buying up real estate for development in the early 90s required no skill or business acumen, it was simply a folly of the exceedingly rich to multiply their bank accounts.
In 1995 Kroenke became a part-owner of the Rams after he helped facilitate the team’s move from Anaheim to St. Louis. Without his involvement the team never would have left Los Angeles in the first place. Then in 2000 he started buying sports teams outright, starting with the Denver Nuggets and Colorado Avalanche.
With the death of Rams owner Georgia Frontiere in 2010, Kroenke took the opportunity to take over the Rams outright, exercising his right as a partial owner to buy the remainder of the shares from Frontiere’s estate. It was immediately clear that Kroenke’s commitment to the city of St. Louis was lip service at best.
The demands of the Rams’ new owner were ridiculous. Despite having a stadium built only 15 years prior, Kroenke demanded a new state of the art stadium, then acted like his hands were tied when the city of St. Louis didn’t capitulate. Publicly Kroenke was saying he wanted to keep the Rams where they were, but privately word was getting out that he was looking to move the team back to Los Angeles. Years of terrible performance created a breeding ground for apathy, which allowed Kroenke to justify his move to Los Angeles in 2016.
In the span of 21 years he pulled the Rams out of Los Angeles, then did the same to St. Louis to move them back. Always busy being awful, Kroenke also bought Arsenal of the Premier League and ran them into the ground, becoming one of soccer’s most reviled owners — as well as launching a U.K. based hunting channel in 2017, which celebrated hunting endangered species.
Meanwhile in Cincinnati, we have Mike Brown of the Bengals, who also sucks. The son of Bengals founder Paul Brown, Mike has been given the gift of nepotism for his entire adult life and never had to work for anything. He was named Assistant General Manager of the team in 1968, at the age of 33, despite having no experience in football outside of his father owning the team.
Upon Paul Brown’s death in 1991, Mike assumed ownership responsibilities and quickly fired beloved head coach Sam Wyche. Brown would replace him with Dave Shula, other beneficiary of nepotism, who subsequently ran the team into the ground.
Then, in 1995, Brown threatened to move the team. Using every trick at his disposal, Brown even accused Cincinnati of breaking their lease agreement with the Bengals after they were late in paying an invoice.
“At an owners’ meeting in 1995, Brown announced that Cincinnati had breached its lease agreement when it was late by one week in paying $167,000 in concession receipts. According to Brown, this breach entitled the Bengals to relocate to a different city.”
Brown was ready to move the team to Baltimore, even securing an agreement with the city on a new stadium, which he took back to Cincinnati to hold his town hostage. With a five day ultimatum, the city finally gave into Brown’s demands, and agreed to raise taxes to fund a new stadium for the Bengals. The hasty deal is still regarded as one of the worst for the community in history, in a deal that let Brown reap all the benefits, with no guarantees for the citizens of Cincinnati.
The team also largely sucked since he’s been in charge, often winning in spite of the front office, not because of it. Brown has been an awful GM for the vast majority of his time at the helm, and refused to give up power to anyone. He’s stocked the front office with members of his own family, ensuring the nepotism that made him owner continues, and is routinely regarded as one of the cheapest, and worst owners in professional sports.
So, remember these things when the celebrations begin. The players who put their bodies on the line and risk everything on the field. The coaches who spend time away from their families, working ludicrous hours during the regular season. The first person to hold the Lombardi Trophy will be a loser of a human who will be celebrated for their money. The NFL’s true goal, saying the quiet part out loud on the brightest stage.
Stan Kroenke and Mike Brown suck.