What a fantastic time for St. Louis sports.
As usual the Cardinals are the core, but there’s plenty of space for other teams to build a strong identity, foster a loyal audience and rouse excitement.
Guided by the impressive leadership of first-year basketball coach Dennis Gates, Missouri is headed back to the NCAA Tournament.
And while the Blues have initiated a rebuild for the first time since 2006, the disappointment is eased by the knowledge that GM Doug Armstong and his outstanding scouts have a load of NHL Draft capital to use for a move to a promising future. Armstrong now holds three first-round draft picks in 2023, a second-rounder in 2024, a third-round choice in 2023, a fourth-rounder in ‘24. In his dealing, Army also collected highly-rated forward prospect Zach Dean. The end of an era is never easy, but Armstrong did the necessary thing, and it will be exciting to see the development of next-generation talent.
The Cardinals stand with the Dodgers and Yankees as the three most successful franchises in major-league baseball since 2000, and we can look forward to the next wave of prospects reaching St. Louis – the brightest being corner-outfielder Jordan Walker and shortstop Masyn Winn. Say what you want about chairman Bill DeWitt Jr. and president of baseball ops John Mozeliak, but they’ve managed to provide an extensive run of winning baseball while developing premium young talent through their draft-development model. This should never be taken for granted.
And for something different and new and special, how about St. Louis City SC? How about the XFL St. Louis Battlehawks? This is a helluva sports town, made even better by the two additions to our sports landscape.
ST. LOUIS CITY SC: After a 2-1 triumph at Portland, a defiant St. Louis City SC moved to 3-0 on the season, bypassing the customary traipsing expected of MLS expansion teams. The lads are making history. They are making their fans happy. Deliriously happy.
City is atop the Supporters’ Shield Standings, which goes to the MLS team that has the most points for the season. Well, three games into their existence St. Louis stands No. 1 among the league’s 29 teams with nine points. They lead the MLS with eight goals and have the most road wins (2.) St. Louis plays with poise, ruthless competitiveness and surprising cohesion.
This first-year club has skipped over the growth-stage process to rush out of the gate to claim three come-from-behind victories, outscoring opponents 4-1 in the second half. This is the only team — any team — to open a campaign with a 3-0 mark — and having to come back in all three triumphs.
City are the first expansion team in MLS history to open a season with three consecutive wins 3-0 since Seattle in 2009 and can become the first expansion entry to sprint to a 4-0 start by defeating San Jose on Saturday at CityPark.
City’s $468 million venue has set the MLS standard for how stadiums should look and feel and fit the community. This joyful gathering place is the communal center where the franchise and its passionate fan base band together. Just as important, CityPark is creating a new and vibrant district in downtown-west St. Louis.
Is this a dream, or what? This is about a historically distinguished and heralded soccer town being recharged like never before by the long-awaited presence of an MLS franchise. And maybe that is a dream. We dreamed of this, right?
BATTLEHAWKS: The Sunday-afternoon scene at The Dome was a colorful and crazy spectacle – and that is most definitely a compliment. This quiet and dark setting came alive thanks to a gorgeously eccentric dressed-out crowd that turned an XFL game into a football Mardi Gras. The constant blast of noise from the fired-up Ka-Kaw! cult left the Arlington Renegades looking for an escape route, and the visitors staggered out of the thunder dome with a 24-11 loss to the Battlehawks.
The Battlehawks improved to 3-1, which is damn good considering the schedule that put them on the road for the first three games. On Sunday it was time to re-open the Dome at America’s Center. The home-opening event showcased our town’s strong and vastly underrated love of football – and loudly amplified the longstanding grievances against the NFL.
The St. Louis rebellion raged on. It’s an anti-NFL movement fueled by pride and passion, utter contempt for Stan Kroenke, Roger Goodell and the The Establishment – all of that plus an abundance of cold Anheuser-Busch products. St. Louis set a new XFL attendance record with a swarm of 38,310 insurgents.
“This is awesome,” quarterback A.J. McCarron told ESPN2 after the win-win day in the STL. “This embodies what St. Louis is about – blue-collar, hard-working people.”
This is so much fun for the fans – these rebels with a cause. Nothing in sports symbolizes the inherent corruption and greed of an NFL empire that repeatedly burned St. Louis and dumped on the fans while on the way out.
Multiple generations of St. Louis football fans have nothing to apologize for. In 49 seasons of NFL football here – Cardinals, then Rams – the teams produced only 16 winning records and qualified for the postseason only eight times.
Over the final nine seasons of the Rams’ stay in St. Louis, the fans were subjected to on-field failure and futility. The nine-year disengagement – 2007 through 2015 – was a spirit-depleting failure, with the Rams having the fewest victories (42) and poorest winning percentage (.295) in the NFL over that time. And even in these worst of times the Rams regularly drew crowds of 50,000 or more.
The Battlehawks are a balm that makes football a happy experience in St. Louis. That’s one side. The other side is the XFL tapping into the negative-but-positive energy by providing a platform for protest. The Battlehawks show that love and hate can co-exist, and this unique mix of emotional fervor is working.
We are all the children of Mother Hawk.
Thanks for reading …
Bernie invites you to listen to his opinionated and analytical sports-talk show on 590 The Fan, KFNS-AM. It airs Monday through Thursday from 3-6 p.m. and Friday from 4-6 p.m. You can listen by streaming online or by downloading the show podcast at 590thefan.com or the 590 app.
Follow Bernie on Twitter @miklasz
Listen to the “Seeing Red” podcast on the Cardinals, featuring Will Leitch and Miklasz. It’s available on your preferred podcast platform. Or follow @seeingredpod on Twitter for a direct link. We usually record a fresh podcast every Monday.