Commentary

Los Angeles ♥ the NFL

Couple split long ago because of irreconcilable differences, but now talk of rekindling

Updated: August 25, 2011, 10:17 AM ET
By Ramona Shelburne | ESPNLosAngeles.com

The JeffersonsMichael Ochs Archives/Getty ImagesGeorge and Weezie Jefferson were at times dysfunctional, but their loyalty was never questioned.
LOS ANGELES - -We never did get a "Dear John" letter or much of an explanation from the NFL. I'm not sure we even officially divorced.

But for the past 16 years, Los Angeles has been living the single life. Playing the field, avoiding commitment, cuddling up to new teams from year to year or week to week.

After the way things ended with the Raiders and Rams back in 1995, it was easier this way. Safer and probably smarter. We like to think of ourselves as cool in this town, but breakups are hard on everyone. Even for beautiful people with courtside Lakers season tickets and designer tailgate party outerwear.

But deep down I think we always knew this type of existence wouldn't last forever. A team would come again someday. Maybe even two.

And so we find ourselves at an awkward moment in our long, mostly dysfunctional relationship with the NFL. Hopefully ready to talk again, maybe ready to love again, cautiously ready to commit again, and looking longingly at teams in other cities who maybe we'd like to take home.

[+] EnlargeGeorgia Frontiere
J.D. Cuban/Getty ImagesThe Rams called Los Angeles home for nearly a half century. Then Georgia Frontiere packed her bags and headed for St. Louis.
In a normal column, this is where I'd probably start quoting San Diego Chargers fans who live in Los Angeles, or tracking down Rams fans who keep up with their old team via satellite at sports bars in Santa Ana. If I wanted to get bookish, I might call up a historian or a marketing specialist to talk about all the other professional sports teams that have successfully relocated to L.A. and lived to tell about it. But for a story this strange, about a relationship as dysfunctional as Los Angeles' has been with the NFL, I needed something different. People who made a living helping others deal with bad relationships, survive divorces, and learn to love again.

So I called two men from very different walks of life who know such issues well:

Ed Young holds a certificate in marriage and family therapy and was a psychology professor at Los Angeles City College for 17 years.

Jay Moriarty was an acclaimed writer and producer for "The Jeffersons," "The Cosby Show," "All in the Family" and the late-1980s sitcom "Dear John," which starred Judd Hirsch as a man whose wife divorced him in a "Dear John" letter and ran off with his best friend.

The question was simple: After everything that has happened can Los Angeles learn to love the NFL again?

"The key to me is whether people felt they were being spurned when [the NFL] left the first time," said Young, our psychology professor. "If they felt abandoned, or pushed aside or discarded by the [Rams' and Raiders'] owners, it's going to be hard to feel happy about them coming back.

"I think it really depends on how the new owners play it. If they convince people that they're coming back for the right reasons, and that they really want to come here and make a great team for us, we'll eventually be OK with it."

So it's that simple? Just kiss and make up after a 16-year separation? Forgive and forget the way it ended in 1995, and all the nastiness and eventual emptiness that came after?

"You do have to recognize what went on in the past," Young said. "And how you recognize it is important. It can be a straight out apology or just saying, 'We're coming in fresh, this is something new, there have been problems in the past but we want to start over and do this right.'

[+] EnlargeAl Davis
Joe Robbins/Getty ImagesThe Raiders won the Los Angeles' only Super Bowl in 1983. Then Al Davis packed his bags and returned to Oakland in 1995.
"Relationships involve two people. There are always two sides. You've each got to come to some understanding about what your part was in developing the unhealthy relationship before you can set some new ground rules on where you can start working on a better relationship going forward."

Moriarty never got to write a happy ending for Hirsch's character before "Dear John" was canceled after four seasons in 1992. After a few good years, a little show called "Seinfeld" started gobbling up the ratings on Thursday nights. But Moriarty says he'd always planned for the series to end with Hirsch's character, John Lacey, marrying Kate McCarron, a fellow divorcee in the show's fictional One-2-One Club.

How would John have learned to love again after being dumped in such an awful way?

"We never got there," Moriarty said. "But I think the answer is probably pretty simple: John would've just had to be convinced that somebody really loved him and wasn't going to leave him."

Moriarty is more of a Lakers fan than a football fan. He grew up in Ohio as a Cincinnati Bengals fan, but admits to casually blowing with the wind on NFL teams now. He roots for players and coaches with USC ties because he's a professor in its school of cinematic arts. He roots for good stories like the New Orleans Saints.

"It works for me," he said. "I don't have to commit my heart to one team. I watch a game, we spend the day together and that's it.

"It's not like rooting for one team, like the Lakers, and worrying about them all the time. Like, 'Oh my gosh, we've got a new coach. How's it going to work? How are we going to bounce back?'

"After this year, with the way the Lakers lost to Dallas, I was really down. It really does emotionally affect you."

The more Moriarty and I talked about the show, the more I thought about how deeply L.A.'s divorce with the NFL must have affected those of us who love football here in Los Angeles. We aren't just scarred from what happened in 1995 and numb from all the mishugas that came after. I'm wondering if maybe we're not even really looking for love anymore. We like the idea of the NFL coming back to Los Angeles, are we a little too proud or too stung to admit that we need, or even want, a team of our own.

And we're definitely looking for an apology.

But instead, we're about to be fixed up on blind dates with teams we've never met or cared much about, by a league that never officially told us why our previous partners divorced us in the first place. It's a lot to ask from a town that's still caught in the middle of Frank and Jamie McCourt's mess.

On TV at least, this is how it always goes. The best couples fight, manipulate and sabotage each other every week. And yet somehow nobody goes to bed angry.

"Don't get me started talking about 'The Jeffersons,'" Moriarty said, laughing. "George and Weezie might've fought all the time, but you always knew George was coming from a good place. He was trying to help his family or do the right thing for his family. That's the key. That's why it worked."

Ramona Shelburne is a columnist and reporter for ESPNLA.com

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