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MONEY TALKS, RAMS WALK - TO ST. LOUIS

What a difference a month, a lot more money and the threat of legal action made for the St. Louis Rams.

In March, NFL owners gave the thumbs-down to the Rams' move from Anaheim, Calif., to St. Louis by a 21-3 count. On Wednesday, there was an abrupt about-face, with owners voting 23-6 in favor.The owners also approved the sale of 30 percent of the team to Columbia, Mo., businessman Stan Kroenke, who paid $60 million to become minority owner of a team that has had five consecutive losing seasons.

"Isn't this spectacular?" Kroenke said. "It's unbelievable."

It was a decision governed by dollar signs.

Between the owners' March meeting and Wednesday's special session, the Rams increased their financial settlement offer from $25.5 million to as much as $71 million, depending on certain conditions. The NFL, staring at lawsuits from the Rams, St. Louis interests and the Missouri attorney general if it voted against the move again, decided not to risk another losing battle in court.

"I really never doubted it," Kroenke said. "I wasn't sure how we'd do it, but I felt like the situation was too good in St. Louis to be passed up by the league. It just made too much sense."

The agreement makes the Rams the first NFL team to leave the West Coast and ends a 49-year stay in Southern California. It calls for the Rams to pay a $29 million relocation fee, $17 million from proceeds of personal seat licenses, and up to $12.5 million in liability for any revenue lost by the Fox network in the last three years of its contract. The NFL will share in the cost of any rebate made to Fox.

Plus, the Rams agreed to waive an estimated $13.5-million payment they would receive as their cut of the next round of expansion. They would get half of that amount if an expansion team were awarded to Los Angeles.

The offer was so good that Rams president John Shaw advised owner Georgia Frontiere not to take it. But Frontiere could afford to be generous, since the Rams stand to earn $20 million annually in St. Louis.

"Right now, the euphoria is so great, it seems like a wedding," Frontiere said. "We're having a wedding in St. Louis now."

Somehow, both sides agreed that money was not the key to the deal. Commissioner Paul Tagliabue and dissenting owners said that the problem was largely a matter of tradition and not a desire to cash in on the Rams' success.

To accentuate his point that money wasn't the key issue, Tagliabue said proceeds may go to NFL Charities or a stadium trust fund and would not be shared by the other owners.

"I really think that money was not a determining factor, I really believe that," Kroenke said.

Representatives of FANS Inc., the St. Louis group that wooed the Rams, had a different outlook. As part of the agreement, FANS Inc. will have to come up with another $2.5 million, and they've already committed $74 million in PSL money.

"We're saying nice things about the commissioner tonight," said FANS Inc. president Tom Eagleton, a former U.S. senator. "He has his view of it and we have ours."

The owner turnaround apparently was tied to the construction of a stadium for the Los Angeles Raiders adjacent to Hollywood Park racetrack, which would guarantee an NFL franchise in the area. The Raiders, who moved from Oakland in 1982, have been threatening to move.

The Rams' relocation was helped along by an apparent agreement to build a new stadium for the Los Angeles Raiders near Hollywood Park racetrack. The Los Angeles Times, citing unidentified sources, said if the Rams' move was approved, the new stadium likely would also get the thumbs-up. Owners discussed the Raiders situation Wednesday but did not take action.

The move leaves the NFC West with only one team west of St. Louis, at least for now. Tagliabue said the league would establish another team in Los Angeles soon via either expansion or relocation.

The Cincinnati Bengals immediately come to mind as a relocation candidate. Owner Mike Brown is playing in outdated Riverfront Stadium and said his lease allows him to leave after next season.

Tagliabue didn't want to tackle that issue right away.

"The only thing we're worried about now is who's going to pick first in the draft next week," he said.