Starting with the team’s arrival from Los Angeles in 1995, Belleville Alderman Ed Dintelman and his family and friends had a ringside seat for St. Louis Rams football.
After the early days at the old Busch Stadium, he and wife Carla’s season tickets were in the south end zone of the Edward Jones Dome, Section 101, seats 6 and 7.
Right in the front row.
“You knew everybody in the row behind you, shaking hands up and down the line,” said Dintelman, 61, now retired from U.S. Steel in Granite City. “You’d have your favorite spot you’d stand at halftime, talking to people and catching up. It was a big deal, an all-day event.”
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Dintelman’s favorite memory from 21 seasons of Rams football in St. Louis?
A large snowflake that touched his face as he exited the dome following the Rams’ NFC Championship game victory in January, 2000. The Rams won that game 11-6 on a 31-yard TD pass from Kurt Warner to Ricky Proehl.
You knew everybody in the row behind you, shaking hands up and down the line. It was a big deal, an all-day event.
Rams season-ticket holder Ed Dintelman
Fans went wild, first inside and later outside the dome.
“It was that snowflake, they were big and coming down hard,” Dintelman said. “Everybody was jumping up and down and honking their horns. It was such a big moment after the game, walking out into the crowd. It was a dream come true, we were going to the Super Bowl.
“That was my greatest day watching football ever. I went to the ’82 World Series and thought that was the greatest thing. But that particular day of football was just as good, if not better.”
Flash forward to Tuesday. Dintelman was at a St. Louis Blues game when he heard the Rams’ move back to the Los Angeles had been made official by the NFL.
After he and everyone sitting around him at the dome had sunk a 21-year financial and emotional investment in the team, Dintelman and the rest of the many loyal Rams season-ticket holders had the door slammed in their face.
An owner seeking a new stadium and bigger payday out west had won the approval of his other multi-millionaire and billionaire pals in the NFL boys club.
What were St. Louis football fans left with?
Memories. Rams jerseys of their favorite players. A Super Bowl championship hat or poster.
It is tough. It’s a big part of your life. You look forward to going over there and Sundays and seeing all your buddies — and then it’s gone.
But mostly just memories.
A mix of highs and lows, of wasted draft picks and bad free-agent signings, of sellouts and this season’s more intimate gatherings.
Those were balanced by the sight of Marshall Faulk weaving his way through defenses, Isaac Bruce’s outstretched fingertips cradling a deep ball from Kurt Warner and Mike Jones hauling down Kevin Dyson inches away from the goal line to preserve the franchise’s lone Super Bowl championship.
“You kind of prepare for bad news like that, but you never know until it hits you,” said Dintelman, a former offensive lineman at Belleville East and longtime coach and board member of the Belleville Little Devils youth football organization. “It was like ‘Doggone it, we were there in good and bad years for you guys, now all of sudden you’re gone. That’s the second time (and NFL team has left town), so it’s a big slap in St. Louis’ face right there.
“It is tough. It’s a big part of your life. You look forward to going over there and Sundays and seeing all your buddies — and then it’s gone.”
Many times the Dintelmans brought sons Blake and Shane along. Ed Dintelman’s brothers, Fred and Donnie, also had season tickets, too.
Seated next to Ed Dintelman was his former softball teammate, Bobby Dehler from Smithton. A few rows back was Columbia High Athletic Director Joe Iorio. The whole section became an extended family of Rams fans who cheered went things went well and were frustrated when they didn’t.
Sure it was bad football at times, but it was their bad football.
They suffered through the days of Rich Brooks and Tony Banks and then were treated to some of the best football Sundays this city ever witnessed.
We’d get there two or three hours before the game depending on what we had to cook. One day we deep-fried three turkeys out on the parking lot, so we had to get there real early for that.
They watched Faulk shred defenses and a previously unknown quarterback named Kurt Warner take the NFL by storm with their “Greatest Show on Turf” offense that led to the franchise’s only Super Bowl championship in the 1999 season.
Dintelman and his group saw 49ers linebacker Ken Norton Jr. pound the goalpost pads like a punching bag at the old Busch Stadium, witnessed the Proehl catch in the end zone that led to an NFC championship. They also endured more bad football than anyone should be subjected too, but showed up each week with the same optimistic attitude.
“There was never any booing from the true fan,” Dintelman said. “There was never a boo out of me.”
At first they tailgated at the Casino Queen parking lot in East St. Louis, later moving to the north side of the dome before finally finding a spot in a gated parking lot just south of the stadium for the past 10 years.
It was the Dintelmans and friends Jim Brandt, Al Karban, the brothers Meehan (Tim, Mike and Dave) and other assorted family and friends.
Each week was the same, with Dintelman timing things to the point where the group would arrive in their seats just before the national anthem.
“We’d get there two or three hours before the game depending on what we had to cook,” Ed Dintelman said. “One day we had deep-fried three turkeys out on the parking lot, so we had to get there real early for that.
“If you knew you were going to have a big crowd, you’d have a lot of pork steaks or bratwurst, whatever it took.”
Because he sat in the front row, Dintelman had several game balls tossed to him through the years. He gave each one to a youngster somewhere near him.
There will be no more NFL game balls in St. Louis, at least for the foreseeable future. One of the favorite pieces of memorabilia kept by Dintelman is a gold foam “No. 1” finger giveaway item.
“I’m going to remember the good times,” he said. “I know they’re going to go, but I’m not going to chastise the memories I already have. I’ll keep my little foam finger.”