Relocation is a (usually unfortunate) part of the sports world. The NFL is no stranger to that with three teams — the Rams, Chargers, and Raiders — all picking new homes in the last few years. SB Nation NFL is looking at the fallout and ramifications of team displacements throughout NFL history, and what moves could be coming next in our relocation-themed week.
Loyalty is a rarity in the NFL. Players, coaches, and executives change homes every year after either exhausting their usefulness in one location or searching for greener pastures. And that ever-shifting landscape isn’t limited to people.
In the past three years, we’ve seen the Rams and Chargers leave St. Louis and San Diego, respectively, for the chance to share a $2 billion venue in Los Angeles. The Raiders will put Oakland in their rear view after the coming season to move to Las Vegas.
They join a long list of displaced teams. The Houston Oilers moved from Memphis and then to Nashville, becoming the Tennessee Titans along the way. The league briefly snuffed out the Browns’ existence at the insistence of owner Art Modell, turning them into the Baltimore Ravens and giving Cleveland’s former franchise its only consecutive non-losing seasons since 1989 in the process.
Some of these moves have made sense; they gave football-starved cities the chance to revitalize a franchise and establish a new string of traditions. Others deprived loyal fans of their beloved teams and dropped them into disinterested markets. And a third category moved teams to different locations within the same basic area, either making home games more accessible to fans or moving out of a city center and into the suburbs.
So who did it right? And which moved failed to generate the newfound traction overreaching owners were hoping to gain?
The good relocations
The Dallas Texans become the Kansas City Chiefs
In 1960, two professional football teams descended upon Dallas: the NFL’s Cowboys and the AFL’s Texans. The Texans were great; they went 25-17 in their first three seasons and won the AFL title in ‘62. The Cowboys were not; they won nine games in three years and, despite a potent offense, were still years away from contention.
But Lamar Hunt didn’t see enough of a market in the heart of Texas to support two pro teams, so he started looking for a new home for his AFL club. When Kansas City mayor H. Roe Bartle — a man with quite possibly the most “1960s politician” name ever to exist — guaranteed to triple Hunt’s number of season ticket holders, the Texans became the Chiefs.
The Chiefs posted a 5-7-2 record in their first season in Missouri, then put together a 10-year streak of non-losing seasons. This stretch included four playoff appearances, two Super Bowl appearances, and one title — laying the foundation for one of the most passionate (and loud) fanbases in the NFL.
As for Dallas, the loss of the Texans in 1962 pushed fans in the Lone Star State to the city’s NFL holdover, where young coach Tom Landry was slowly building an empire. While the Cowboys lacked the initial Super Bowl success of the team that left town, they wound up serving as a pretty solid consolation prize for Texas — they’d be a mainstay in the NFC title race by the 1970s.
The Decatur Staleys become the Chicago Bears
Decatur, located smack dab in the middle of Illinois, had a population of nearly 44,000 in 1920, the first season the Staleys played in the fledgling AFPA. With a 10-1-2 record, they had more wins than anyone else in the league and a bigger local population than rival franchises in cities like Hammond, Ind., Muncie, Ind., and Rock Island, Ill.
Even if that boded well for the regional nature of the game at the time, George Halas had bigger ideas. He bought the team — then a company team representing the A.E. Staley Food Starch Co. — and moved it north to Chicago after only two seasons in Decatur.
The Windy City already had a team — two of them, in fact — but the dissolution of the Chicago Tigers in 1921 made the Cardinals and Staleys the only game in town. For nearly four decades, the city would be host to the Cardinals and the club that, in 1922, would become the Bears. Then the Bears effectively ran a near-bankruptcy Cardinals team out of town in 1960.
The Staleys/Bears would win eight NFL championships in the years between the move in 1921 and 1963 while appearing in four other title games. And though the years since have been a desert brought rain mostly by the Super Bowl Shufflin’ team of 1985, the Bears are one of only two original franchises to have survived the tumultuous early era of the NFL to stand tall in 2019.
The Cleveland Browns become the Baltimore Ravens (and then resume their existence four years later)
First things first: this was a terrible move for Cleveland, who went three seasons without an NFL franchise and was then forced to deal with the Members Mark version of their former team over the past two decades. Art Modell righted the wrong of the Colts’ mad dash out of Maryland by doing pretty much the same thing to Cleveland, a city with a similarly impressive historical resume but limited recent success.
And, as long as you don’t look back at the Browns, this move was a rousing success. After three seasons of shaking off their just-moved malaise, the Ravens were a .500 team by 1999 — beating a revived Cleveland team twice that season — and a Super Bowl champion after the 2000 season. Baltimore was, unsurprisingly, stoked about this. Fans bought out the Ravens’ season ticket supply by 2004, and in 2016 the season ticket waiting list was a queue that would take an estimated 20 years to wind through.
Oh, and while the Browns have yet to make it to a Super Bowl, the Ravens have been twice in approximately one-third the time — and won them both.
And the relocations that failed to help
The Cleveland Browns become the Baltimore Ravens
In the 20 seasons since being revived, the Browns have had two winning seasons. They had nine in the final two decades in their original incarnation. They had eight playoff appearances and five division titles from 1975 to 1994, and have had only one postseason game and zero AFC North crowns in the years since — though they have finished dead last in the division 15 times since then.
Meanwhile, the Ravens won a Super Bowl five years after leaving Cleveland, have been to the postseason 11 times, and are 30-10 against their former selves all time.
So, not a great deal for northeast Ohio.
The Chargers move from San Diego to ... Carson, California?
There’s still time to turn this move around, but the most notable aspects of Dean Spanos’ move up the 10 have been:
- a temporary residence in a 27,000-seat soccer stadium, and
- the bulk of those 27,000 seats being occupied by opposing fans.
Time for another game of "Spot the Los Angeles Chargers fans in an image of a Los Angeles Chargers home game" pic.twitter.com/9g1t7cBMeF— Rodger Sherman (@rodger) September 30, 2018
The former problem will be remedied when the team moves into the brand new, $2 billion stadium it will share with the Rams, but the latter might not ever truly go away. Los Angeles has struggled to support one single team in the past, and now the Chargers are running into a situation where they could wind up playing second fiddle to LA’s other team — especially with the Rams ascendant behind a young quarterback and Philip Rivers sliding into the twilight of his career.
But hey, Spanos got the heavily subsidized stadium he wanted. And if he really fared about keeping fans happy, he could have just left his team home in San Diego.
The 49ers move from San Francisco to Santa Clara
While not an official relocation, the Niners left behind their blustery waterfront home at Candlestick Park in order to christen a $1.3 billion stadium in Santa Clara, some 40 miles away. In mild traffic, that’s about an hour’s drive from San Francisco, and that combination of that long commute, high prices, and uninspiring play have combined to sap the club’s homefield advantage in their new confines.
Levi’s Stadium opened in 2014 with the highest average ticket prices in the league, which wasn’t especially surprising given its location in one of the most expensive places to live in the world. The problem was that for elite prices, fans had the opportunity to wade through horrible traffic and watch a team that’s averaged five wins per year in its Santa Clara tenure.
Levi’s issues stretch beyond expensive seats and an uncomfortable commute. The stadium’s positioning and lack of shade means fans get roasted under a hotly reflected California sun in a problem executives have no idea how to fix. The turf condition ranges from mediocre to “terrible.” Officials once kicked out a Girl Scout celebration event to hold a more profitable concert, only to reverse course once EVERYONE IN THE WORLD told them what a bad idea this would be.
In short, Levi’s Stadium is garbage. Long live the frigid bay winds of Candlestick.