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NFL dreams appear realistic for St. Louis

The thrice-jilted NFL fans of St. Louis are letting down their guard.

After losing the Cardinals to Phoenix in 1987, then being passed over, along with Baltimore, in expansion last year and again when the New England Patriots were sold by a St. Louisan, fans grew skeptical.

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But it finally looks as if salvation may be upon them.

BPeople familiar with the talks between St. Louis officials and the Los Angeles Rams say a deal has not been struck, but momentum is clearly on St. Louis' side. Negotiations between the team and St. Louis officials have gotten down to the nitty-gritty, including seat colors and the site of a practice facility to be built.

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"Everybody here thinks it's a done deal and is pretty excited," said Joe DeLurgio, president of the St. Louis Rams Fan Club, a recently organized group that holds Sunday Rams Rallies at Walter Payton's Americas Bar. "The energy level is way up."

But a source familiar with the negotiations, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said that although the focus remains on St. Louis, significant issues remain to be settled.

And Rams spokesman Jim Mahoney said they are still talking. "The negotiations are ongoing and nothing is set in concrete," he said.

Orioles managing partner Peter Angelos, bidding to move the team to Baltimore, says he is still in regular contact with the Rams and doesn't think Baltimore has been excluded.

"Certainly St. Louis is substantially in the lead, but I don't think it is a done deal. That can change overnight," Angelos said.

But the focus of his efforts has shifted to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who are for sale.

In St. Louis, more than 400 people came to last Sunday's rally, many of them taking home T-shirts featuring the team logo under the Gateway Arch, or bumper stickers saying, "We're on a Rampage."

Many, like DeLurgio, remember when the Cardinals, who moved from Chicago to St. Louis in 1960, left for Arizona because of declining attendance and an owner unhappy about sharing a stadium.

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St. Louis regrouped and began construction of a $260 million convention center annex that can, with the addition of seating, double as a 70,000-seat stadium replete with sky boxes and club seats. The stadium could be completed next year.

Confidence is so high in St. Louis, that one local bank has offered cut-rate mortgages to Rams officials moving to town with the team.

Anaheim, Calif., where the Rams play, has enhanced its bid to keep the team. It had offered to renovate Anaheim Stadium and build a new structure for the baseball Angels, a deal that left the Rams unimpressed.

And Orange County's bankruptcy filing this week casts further doubt.

"It wasn't real helpful to us. It adds to an almost biblical litany of disasters that have hit us, from earthquakes and floods to fires and civil unrest. You think someone is trying to tell us something," said Leigh Steinberg, a sports agent who co-chairs the Committee to Save the Rams.

He said his group thinks it can still make the plan work, and will continue fighting for the team even if it announces plans to move.

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St. Louis investor Stan Kroenke has reached agreement to purchase about 40 percent of the team, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported. But the team still is working out details of a lease on the new downtown stadium and plans to build a practice facility and office complex, and has yet to get the final nod from team owner Georgia Frontiere or NFL approval.

Former Senator Thomas Eagleton, who is heading those negotiations for St. Louis, told reporters this week that he was confident a deal will be accomplished.

St. Louis and the trustees selling the Buccaneers have talked, but Eagleton said his focus is on the Rams.


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