ST. LOUIS -- They came with a passion for football and the St. Louis Rams on a rainy night with the St. Louis Blues hockey team playing next door at the Scottrade Center.
The Peabody Opera House was filled with 1,500 raucous Rams fans for the first of three public hearings in St. Louis, San Diego and Oakland, cities where club owners are seeking to relocate to Los Angeles.
Fans came wearing Rams jerseys and one-by-one through a three-hour session spoke emotionally and from the heart about their love of the team and the ties that bind a team to a community. Many also didn't hold back in criticism of owner Stan Kroenke, who has proposed building a stadium in Inglewood, Calif., and moving the Rams back to the area they left in 1995.
When NFL executive vice president Eric Grubman walked on stage with three other league officials, including senior vice president of public policy and government affairs Cynthia Hogan, fans began chanting "Let's Go Rams."
Then, when Dave Peacock and Bob Blitz, leaders of the local task force that has put together a plan for a $1 billion stadium on the St. Louis riverfront to keep the Rams, were introduced to say a few words, the fans quickly gave a roaring standing ovation.
Afterward, Peacock and Blitz issued a statement that read, "We thank the sports fans of St. Louis for their passion, support, eloquence and class at tonight's NFL hearing. The fans who spoke this evening represented the St Louis community and expressed our love for the Rams in an incredibly powerful and convincing manner. We thank the NFL for the opportunity to be heard and we are extremely humbled and proud to represent St. Louis in this effort."
Rams chief operating officer Kevin Demoff was introduced to a smattering of boos and said, "I'm thrilled that you're here. We're willing to listen." Demoff stayed for the entire evening.
The NFL is on a timeline to potentially decide in January whether to relocate the Rams and possibly a second team to Inglewood, or endorse a partnership between the Chargers and Raiders to play in a stadium in Carson, Calif.
For St. Louis fans, the overwhelming emotion was emphasizing that Kroenke doesn't come close to satisfying NFL relocation rules that mandate an owner negotiate in good faith with the current city.
"It's almost sad what he's done," one fan said.
Another said, "All he cares about is money. He doesn't care about the league or this city. The league should eliminate the Rams from consideration (for a move)." That fan noted that when Kroenke gained controlling ownership of the Rams in April 2010, he promised "to attempt to do everything that I can to keep the Rams in St. Louis. Just as I did everything that I could to bring the team to St. Louis in 1995. I believe my actions speak for themselves."
Although Grubman said any decision on following the relocation rules will be up to the owners when the time comes, at one point Hogan said, "It's hard for me to imagine there's a city in America with better fans. It's overwhelming to see this kind of passion."
When directly asked to comment on whether Kroenke followed the rules, Grubman said, "What he did yesterday doesn't matter. It's what he does tomorrow that's important. Sometimes owners are directly involved in negotiations, sometimes they are not."
Jan. 1 is the first date that a team can file a relocation application, at which point the club must show why it believes it should be allowed to move.
Grubman insisted that all clubs "will be measured against the relocation rules."
When a fan yelled out, "But what can we do?" Grubman said, "There's nothing more you can do than what you've done tonight. I don't believe this is over."
Concluded Hogan, "It was very moving to hear you tonight."
Of course, the unanswered question, expressed by one fan was, "Does what we are saying really matter?"
That question was left for Grubman and Co. to ponder as they head to San Diego and Oakland.