ST. LOUIS — It's official: The Los Angeles Rams agreed Tuesday to take the money and run.
In a frenzy of self-congratulation, the Rams were signed, sealed and all but delivered to football-starved St. Louis as the city by the Mississippi put a virtual pot of gold at the end of its famed arch and lured away what was once one of the National Football League's most distinguished franchises.
Signing a blown-up version of a relocation agreement, St. Louis city and county officials turned the anti-climactic announcement of the move into a giddy celebration complete with indoor fireworks and streamers.
"I'm overwhelmed," joked team owner Georgia Frontiere, 67, who stands to make more than $20 million annually as part of the deal. "I don't think I've been this happy since the last game we won."
Frontiere, who has been shopping cities for more than a year, also introduced her new partner, Stan Kroenke. The Missouri businessman will pay $60 million for a 30% share of the team and the title of vice chairman of the Rams board.
Pending league approval, the move will end the Rams' 49-year relationship with Southern California, where the team made 14 playoff appearances from 1973 through 1989 and reached the 1980 Super Bowl. It also ends a seven-year NFL drought for St. Louis, which lost the Cardinals to Phoenix in 1988.
"The happiness . . . it's like going to a wedding," a tearful Frontiere said after the 45-minute news conference, during which she received several standing ovations. "The sadness . . . it's like going to a funeral.
"I just felt like this is where I have to be--this is home," said Frontiere, who was born Georgia Irwin in St. Louis in 1927 and attended nearby Soldan High School before moving to California at age 15. "To be greeted like that almost took my breath away. It was hard to keep from crying. . . . I mean, the spirit of St. Louis has kind of gotten into me."
But while St. Louis exploded in pigskin-mad rejoicing, another NFL franchise delivered a cautionary note Tuesday: To finalize her exit from Anaheim, Frontiere still must garner the votes of 23 of the league's 30 owners at the NFL's March 12-17 league meeting in Phoenix.
"I don't think that it's a sure thing at all at this point," said Roger L. Headrick, president and chief executive officer of the Minnesota Vikings. "One of the things you have to look at is the reasons that they lost money (in Anaheim)."
Headrick said he had discussed the possible move with other owners before Tuesday's announcement. "I feel some of them are in favor of it, but there are others, like myself, who remain to be convinced." he said. "I think it's tough right now to get 23 votes for anything."
Members of Save the Rams, the group trying to keep the team in Orange County, also stressed Tuesday that the St. Louis celebration is premature.
"Ram fans should not lose hope," said Newport Beach sports attorney Leigh Steinberg, a Save the Rams co-chairman. "St. Louis can celebrate from here until doomsday. . . . But the reality is that we only need the votes of eight owners."
Steinberg said efforts to block the move have already begun.
"Hopefully, we will get the hearing with the league that we never got with the Rams," Steinberg said. "The Rams clearly had a plan to move to St. Louis that didn't just spring up in August, 1994. Part of that plan was an unwillingness to seriously hear the local proposals to keep the team."
But Frontiere said she doesn't think she will have any trouble convincing the other owners of the benefits of having the Rams in St. Louis. Tuesday night, she planned to fly to New York to meet other owners for a party Wednesday celebrating the NFL's 75th anniversary.
"I think they would all be happy for me," she said. "We're all (financial) partners, and I think when they come (to St. Louis), they'll realize that there's more (money) here to take home with them."
In Anaheim--a city held hostage for nearly a year for a ransom they couldn't or wouldn't pay--city officials said they have already targeted as new tenants four specific teams, which they declined to name.
"Assuming that the Rams are successful in getting the league vote, we will be aggressively pursuing another NFL franchise," City Manager James D. Ruth said.
Ruth would not say whether officials are actively courting the Los Angeles Raiders but said, "The Raiders are a quality, winning franchise. We would be proud to have them consider Orange County."
But some questioned Tuesday how easy would it be to lure another team to an area that lately was unable to fill the stands when it had a franchise.
"At the moment I think a lot of people are saying, 'Great. Let them go. We'll get another franchise,' " said Andy Puzder, a Newport Beach attorney and Save the Rams member. "I don't know if they realize how difficult that will be."