ATLANTA -- In a way, the teams in the Super Bowl tell a story about the changing face of professional sports.
Five years ago, the St. Louis Rams and Tennessee Titans didn't exist in their present form.
To explain how they got to where they are is to weave two tales about money, fan support, stadium deals and owners who weren't afraid to risk decades of tradition and their own reputations for the sake of a better bottom line.
The moves changed the landscape of the NFL. They also proved that winning, not simply showing up, could be the key to making it in any city, regardless of the intensity of the courtship.
''I think we had some concern of assimilating, so to speak, our tradition into that community,'' Rams president John Shaw said. ''It's clear to us that they're very enthusiastic football fans. It's clearer now that we're an accepted football team in St. Louis.''
In 1995, St. Louis was still stinging from the decision made seven years earlier by Cardinals owner Bill Bidwell to move his team out of Busch Stadium and into the Arizona desert.
A group called FANS Inc., helped lure Rams owner Georgia Frontiere from the team's longtime home in Southern California.
The group played on Frontiere's anger over being stuck in a stadium more suited to baseball. She also didn't like sharing the LA market with the Raiders, who would move back to Oakland the same year.
St. Louis offered use of a new $280 million, taxpayer-financed dome and a $50 million practice facility.
It was an attractive offer for a team that had moved to Anaheim from the Los Angeles Coliseum in 1980 and had seen its fan base dwindle as the team slowly went downhill.
After paying the NFL to avoid a lawsuit and agreeing not to take a slice of the upcoming expansion money, Frontiere got NFL owners to approve the move. The Rams became the first NFL team to leave the West Coast.
In Houston, the Oilers had an ebb and flow of fans, mostly depending on how well they were playing.
The genesis of their move, however, had less to do with fans than it did with an onerous stadium deal that owner Bud Adams had been tied to for years.
He was never anything more than a tenant in the Astrodome and even when the stadium was expanded and improved, there was a limited amount of money he could make for his NFL team.
One day, Adams called the mayor of Nashville and told him he would move his team there if the city helped out with a stadium.
''The mayor said, 'This isn't Bud Adams and I appreciate if you wouldn't pull pranks on me,' then he hung up,'' Adams said.
Adams quickly grew tired of being a lame duck in Houston. He bought his way out of the Astrodome lease a year early, after the 1996 season, even though the stadium in Nashville wasn't ready.
The governor of Tennessee helped talk Adams into playing one season in Memphis, but Adams didn't realize that while Memphis and Nashville are in the same state, they're really in different worlds.
They played at the run-down Liberty Bowl in Memphis and averaged 28,000 fans a game. With the new stadium further delayed, they moved to Nashville in 1998 and played another season in cramped Vanderbilt Stadium, where they drew about 37,000 a game.
Not until Adelphia Coliseum was complete last summer did the Titans prosper. The common thought this Super Bowl week is that with all the moving behind them, the Titans were able to focus on football.
Tennessee climbed out of the rut of three consecutive 8-8 years into the limelight of a Super Bowl season during which its fans finally found their passion for pro football.
The next question is, will the fans still be there if the team starts to lose?
Coach Jeff Fisher remembers one of his first encounters with fans in Tennessee. ''I'll never forget the first person I met,'' Fisher said. ''He told me, 'You need to win here. This is a football state.'''
And St. Louis is a football city.
May the best vagabond win.
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