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Buccaneer Fans Hope Only Rams Move : NFC: Tampa Bay supporters are counting on Rams relocating to St. Louis or Baltimore.

December 12, 1994|MIKE REILLEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

TAMPA, Fla. — Russ Barner, a Tampa Bay season-ticket holder since the city landed the expansion franchise in 1976, cheered for two things Sunday when the Rams and Tampa Bay met in the Relocation Bowl--a Buccaneer victory and a Ram move to St. Louis.

Barner got half his wish--the Buccaneers beat the Rams, 24-14.

But there's still no word on whether the Rams have struck a deal with FANS Inc., the group trying to lure them to St. Louis, meaning the Buccaneers still have an outside shot at moving there.

"We don't want the Buccaneers moving to St. Louis," Barner said. "If the Buccaneers leave, it will cripple this town. We'll go right back to the Stone Age.

"I don't know how you feel about your team out in Los Angeles. But we would rather (the Rams) go to St. Louis than us."

The way Buccaneer fans figure it, if the Rams move to St. Louis, it takes one more potential buyer out of the picture. But can Tampa save the Buccaneers?

Barner remains hopeful the team will stay. He wondered just who the winner in all this mess will be--St. Louis, the Rams, the Buccaneers or the moving company that lands the contract?

"They keep showing tape of the moving trucks pulling into Baltimore to move the Colts on TV (news) here," he said. "I don't know how you could let your team go out there in L.A. Here, it would be like cutting an arm or a leg off. You'll never get another NFL team."

That's why fans hung a sign in the north end zone Sunday wishing "The St. Louis Rams luck in 1995."

That's why Orange County's bankruptcy--a blow to Save the Rams' hopes of building a new stadium to keep the team--made the front page of the Tampa Tribune sports section this week.

And it's also why the Tribune devoted a sports cover story Sunday to St. Louis' pursuit of the Rams, complete with color photos of the city's new domed stadium and blue-and-gold bumper stickers that read: "We're on a Rampage . . . . St. Louis Rams . . . . NFL in '95!"

"Hey, whatever happened to Save the Rams?" said Angel Sandoval, a Ram fan from Rowland Heights who moved to Orlando, Fla., two months ago. "We keep hearing that they (the Rams) are gone.

"I don't think that's going to happen here in Tampa. I think the Buccaneers will stay put. From what I've seen this year, and I've been to games in both cities, there's a lot more support here than there is for the Rams back there."

Attendance at Sunday's game was 34,150.

Officials from the St. Louis group joined Ram officials in their suite to watch the 4-9 teams play an ugly game marred by five unsportsmanlike conduct penalties. The Rams are in their fifth consecutive losing season, and the Buccaneers haven't finished better than .500 since 1982.

Besides wooing the Rams, St. Louis is one of five cities that have completed the first round of negotiations to buy the Buccaneers, who went on the market after owner Hugh Culverhouse died in August. Groups from Tampa, Toronto, Orlando and Baltimore also have contacted the board charged with selling the team.

Brian Tye, from Ellicott City, Md., outside Baltimore, was pulling for the Rams to move there. He said he would settle for the Buccaneers.

"It sounds like they want the Bucs back in Baltimore, but I would much rather have the Rams," he said. "But we'll take the Bucs if nobody else comes through. I guess it's either feast or famine.

"But we haven't had football back there in more than 10 years. Right now, we'll take anybody.

"I thought about making a sign that read: 'Go Baltimore Rams' on one side and 'Go Baltimore Bucs' on the other and then bring it to the game. But I didn't think that would go over very well here."

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