Pro football is returning to St. Louis in the form of the XFL. And strangely enough, give former St. Louis Rams quarterback Marc Bulger an unintended assist in making it happen.
"I'm good friends with Marc Bulger — we're both West Virginia guys," XFL commissioner Oliver Luck told the Post-Dispatch. "I know his family pretty well. When I would see him in Morgantown for ballgames, he would rave about the fan base in St. Louis and how much fun he had playing there and how the community accepted him.
"He always had super-positive things to say and for whatever reason that stuck with me."
Luck, the father of Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck, played QB at West Virginia University, as did Bulger years later.
Bulger's scouting report aside, Luck said there were plenty of other reasons why the XFL named St. Louis as one of its eight franchises along with Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles, New York, Seattle, Tampa Bay and Washington.
The league begins play in February 2020, playing a 10-game regular season, plus a playoff semifinal round and championship game in April.
"I think St. Louis is one of the great American cities to be honest with you," Luck said. "A city that's kinda gone through some ups and downs as all Midwestern cities have over the years. I'm a Cleveland native. I can speak to that.
"There's a great sports legacy in that town with the baseball Cardinals, with the Blues."
Not to mention 49 seasons of NFL football with the Cardinals and Rams.
"I can remember playing the old Cardinals, you know, in old Busch Stadium way back in the day," Luck said. "Jim Hart dropping back throwing passes."
Luck played for the Houston Oilers from 1982-86, so he knows all about the Big Red. And he knows what it's like for a city to lose its NFL team.
"I witnessed this as well a little bit in Houston when the Oilers left (for Tennessee) — a team that I played for," Luck said.
In St. Louis, the Cardinals left for Arizona in 1988 after 28 seasons here and the Rams left for Los Angeles in 2016 after 21 seasons in the Gateway City.
"When the Rams did in fact leave (St. Louis) — and I don't want to harp on it because it's in the past — it was hard for the city," Luck said. "It was hard for the community. It was hard for football fans."
The XFL obviously won't replace the NFL in St. Louis, but it will provide an opportunity to watch pro football from February through April in what is now called the Dome at America's Center.
The XFL has a multi-year lease with the St. Louis Convention and Visitors Commission (aka Explore St. Louis). Lease details aren't known at this point, but one source familiar with the process said the CVC will receive more than the $25,000 per game the Rams paid to use the dome.
"I haven't been in the dome, but our (XFL) folks who did go down there (earlier this year) say it's been maintained very well, it's in great shape," Luck said. "It's a great facility. Given the time of year that we're playing, it's sort of nice to have one building that's indoors."
The St. Louis team will practice and be headquartered at what was formerly known as Rams Park — now the Lou Fusz Athletic Center in Earth City.
“We are excited about the opportunity to bring professional football back to The Dome at America’s Center," Kitty Ratcliffe, president of Explore St. Louis, said in a statement. "For several months, we have been in discussions with XFL officials on the possibility of being a venue for one of the league’s eight teams that will begin play in 2020. . . .We look forward to learning more about the XFL’s plans in the coming months."
As with the rest of the league's franchises, Luck said the uniform design, nickname, head coach and other organizational hires in St. Louis will come in the first quarter of 2019.
"We're in discussion with a number of coaches," he said. "We're working diligently on names, colors, logos — all those things. It's important to know we've been working with some local agencies (in St. Louis) — like marketing, communication agencies, creative agencies."
Luck said he and XFL senior vice president of football operations Doug Whaley will pick the head coach in St. Louis (and elsewhere). Whaley is a former general manager of the Buffalo Bills and pro personnel coordinator of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
"And Vince, of course, will be involved in that discussion as well," Luck said.
That would be Vince McMahon, chairman of World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE), who is providing the financial backing for the league. A previous incarnation of the XFL by McMahon lasted only one season in 2001.
In the past, other attempts at non-NFL professional football also have been short-lived: the World Football League (1974-75), the USFL (1983-85) and the United Football League (2009-12).
"The spring league needs capital," Luck said. "You need to have the resources to play a number of years — multi-years if you will — in order to really establish the profile of the team and all of that."
Multiple reports over the summer indicated that McMahon expects to spend $500 million on the XFL in its first three seasons. Similar reports said Luck had signed a $20 million "multi-year" deal to run the league. If those reports are true, the new XFL will be well-funded.
"But the second thing, I think, is disciplined decision-making from a business perspective," Luck said. "Think about the USFL. If it hadn't made the decision to move to the fall, if they had stayed in the spring, I think that league could've made it. ..."
Luck quoted the late Lamar Hunt, longtime owner of the Kansas City Chiefs and one of the founders of the American Football League: "You have to know who you are but also make sure you know who you're not."
In terms of the new XFL, Luck says that translates to: "You focus on spring football and developing talent, developing the franchise in local markets, I really believe we've got as good of a chance as you can get in terms of spring football.
"And I would also say, I don't think football's ever been more popular than it is today. It has challenges and I wouldn't deny those at all, but I think the game is being played, pro, college — gosh, high school — at a very high level."
The XFL will be competing for talent with another fledgling league — the Alliance of American Football — and the AAF has a head start because it starts this February.
The XFL will feature 45-man rosters. One of its selling points will be quicker-paced, shorter games, with fewer in-game interruptions than the NFL. The league is experimenting with various ideas for rules changes, including a shorter play clock, working in Mississippi this week with junior college teams there.