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Rams' rise could be painful for St. Louis, fruitful for Los Angeles

ST. LOUIS -- St. Louis Rams defensive end Robert Quinn made this point two days before his team took down the Seattle Seahawks in overtime in both teams' season-opener: "None of our last names is Kroenke. All we are doing is playing football and waiting until we hear something. We don't think about it."

"It" is the potential that Sunday's contest could have been the Rams' final home opener in St. Louis.

Team owner Stan Kroenke plans to build a stadium in Inglewood, California, just southwest of downtown Los Angeles. His team could move there as soon as next season, pending his fellow owners' approval.

Such a move could come a season after this current team finally hits its long-awaited stride. This dynamic has fan bases in two cities taking notice, even though we just completed Week 1 and so many things can change between now and when the season ends. Still, St. Louis could be losing a team that is finally competitive after more than a decade of futility. Los Angeles could be landing a team built for immediate and long-term success.

The short-sighted tease came Sunday. The Rams' defense looked so good against Seattle, especially defensive tackle Aaron Donald, who could ascend from good to great by season's end. The undermanned and under-experienced offense did enough, at the right times, to rally after blowing an 11-point lead. Quarterback Nick Foles made plays when he had to and made plays you didn't think he could make -- a rushing touchdown on a rollout being one.

The long-sighted reality also came Sunday. The master plan established when Jeff Fisher and Les Snead took over in 2012 -- and aided by the bounty of picks acquired in the trade with Washington for the draft slot used to select quarterback Robert Griffin III -- looks like it finally could be bearing fruit. The Rams might finally stop being just a trendy preseason playoff pick -- they could actually advance to the postseason.

And then move to L.A.

Rams fans -- some of whom have no personal experience of "The Greatest Show on Turf," following a franchise that hasn't posted a winning season since 2003 -- would feel jilted, to say the least.

Love a team that could leave you. NFL Tinder Roulette.

The Chargers and Raiders are bidding to jointly relocate to Carson, California, also a suburb of L.A. Owners will meet in October to once again evaluate the options when it comes to which team(s) will be moving. As of now, sources with knowledge of the developments say there are several things that have to be sorted out. There is no consensus, at this point. The Rams plan is said to be favored, but there are owners who feel the league could solve its two worst stadium problems -- in San Diego and Oakland -- with a move.

At least one team is moving. That is happening. Several owners have said there will be a team in Los Angles in 2016. That team (or those teams) would play in a temporary stadium, like the L.A. Coliseum, until new housing is completed. The only owner of the three up for relocation who hasn't shown any interest in remaining in his existing location is Kroenke. His stadium site in California is shovel-ready -- and several people involved have said he is just waiting to get the green light to dig. Rams fans in St. Louis, while hoping the city can find a way to keep the team there, also are fully aware the team could leave. Many of them are anticipating such a development. That was the feeling before and after the season opener.

The dynamic is complex because not only could the Rams be good and challenge Seattle, San Francisco and Arizona for a playoff spot in the NFC West now, but this is a roster that could do so for years to come. Defensive end Chris Long and linebacker James Laurinaitis are established. But players like Donald, defensive linemates Michael Brockers and Robert Quinn, linebacker Alec Ogletree, running back Tre Mason, wide receivers Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey and tight end Jared Cook are just coming into their own. Trumaine Johnson and Janoris Jenkins comprise a young cornerback tandem to be reckoned with. First-rounder Todd Gurley, the gifted running back nearly every NFL GM had pegged for stardom before the 2015 NFL Draft, will debut as soon as Sunday at Washington, according to team sources, after rehabbing a torn ACL sustained last November at the University of Georgia.

Other than Long and fellow defensive end Williams Hayes, all are younger than 30, with the brunt of the nucleus 26 or under. That is puberty in NFL years.

And then there is Foles, who is solid and, according to teammates and coaches, trustworthy enough to be this team's quarterback for years. He is 26.

Quarterback play has been the Achilles' heel for the Rams in recent years. Foles is being viewed as the guy who solidifies the footing. Before Sunday, players said his off-field leadership was a strength. After the win over Seattle, when Foles answered Cary Williams' strip-sack return touchdown with a game-tying TD pass and a game-winning drive in overtime, Austin said the QB validated himself.

"It's Nick, he's our leader," said Austin, who scored two touchdowns in the game.

Initial success -- and more importantly, sustained success -- is what the NFL and its owners want in Los Angeles. Relocating a loser is not ideal. Sure, folks in L.A. like to be seen at the newest scene, and a state-of-the-art football stadium qualifies. But being forced to convince thousands to buy PSLs, suites and season tickets for a team that routinely misses the playoffs and is coming off a losing season isn't great for business.

A move won't be disqualified if a team stinks. The groundwork simply would be a tad more difficult and the change of scenery would be pushed as the impetus for optimism.

That won't make anyone from a fan base that could lose a team feel any better. In fact, it could be more of a punch in the gut.

Full disclosure: I am from St. Louis, still have family and friends there. Most love the Rams and don't want to see them leave. Most also have kissed them goodbye, sensing the inevitable, with a disdain for Kroenke and an affinity for a franchise that annually can occupy their emotions, tailgates and Monday morning conversations until Major League Baseball's Cardinals start Spring Training.

I have no ties to the Rams. They were in Los Angeles when I grew up in St. Louis. The woeful Big Red Cardinals were the NFL franchise of my youth, but they bolted to Arizona. It hurt having that void in the fall.

So when the Rams moved to St. Louis in 1995, football fans there were thrilled -- not thinking too much about the broken hearts left in the chests of those in Southern California who lost their team. STL folks were just happy to have football back, just like a lot of people in Southern California soon will be.

I currently live in Los Angeles. Having a football team here would be great for fans, especially a full generation of folks who've never had the chance to go to a home game. It doesn't matter to me whether a team is here or not. The NFL is doing just fine, and just because a team (or teams) could move here doesn't mean I won't continue being lucky enough to spend Sundays at Lambeau, Arrowhead or the Jones Mahal in Dallas.

As for Rams players and coaches, they might publicly say they don't concern themselves about relocating, but they do talk about it. I've personally talked to some of them about it. A relocation isn't front and center in their thinking. Experiencing what they experience on the field is. After a stirring win over Seattle, the joy in what they do was evident in how they celebrated on the field and in the locker room. The majority of folks in the non-sold-out stadium were right there with them, cheering for players they know have nothing to do with anything but doing their best on the field.

Follow Steve Wyche on Twitter @wyche89.

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