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Weird and wild road to glory


© St. Petersburg Times, published January 23, 2000

ST. LOUIS -- Among today's 118 professional sports franchises in the NFL, NBA, NHL and Major League Baseball, only the St. Louis Rams have a woman as majority owner.

Quick assessment of Georgia Irwin Geiger Johnson Wyler Hayes Rosenbloom Frontiere can trigger wisecracks and/or deep gasps.

Seven times married. Former nightclub singer. Chorus-line dancer. Urologist's secretary. Stage manager. TV weather forecaster.

Now single at 72, Georgia has a live-in guy pal, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. I couldn't check with her. Frontiere grants no interviews.

She has the ultimate say-so with the Rams, although day-to-day operations are commanded by her financial adviser, John Shaw, along with Stan Kroenke, a Missouri real-estate developer who owns 40 percent of the franchise.

When the Rams moved to Mizzou in 1995, Frontiere said, "St. Louis is my hometown, and I brought my team here to start a new dynasty. In my early days, I thought I'd become a big opera star in Europe.

"Now, by bringing the city an NFL team, I'm doing something that truly will make St. Louis proud. I've worked hard for it."

She found open arms and open wallets. A publicly funded stadium was built for $260-million. More than $22-million was guaranteed in annual luxury suite and ticket revenues. There was other stuff, coming to $70-million.

Local kid strikes gold.

Georgia was born Nov. 21, 1927, in St. Mary's Hospital. Her dad was in the insurance business. Her parents would split.

She first married at 15 to a young fellow going off to World War II. By age 18, a young woman with big ideas left Missouri. To return 50 years later, as something of a hero, bringing along the Rams.

Frontiere inherited 70 percent of the franchise in 1979. She now owns 60 percent. Georgia's sixth husband, former Rams owner Carroll Rosenbloom, drowned almost 21 years ago in the ocean near his Golden Beach home.

That too brings gasps.

He was a terrific swimmer. Used to the Atlantic surf. Took daily dips. Carroll personified the term "high roller." Fast life. Big money. Fascinating array of friends, from the glitzy to the sleazy. Rosenbloom made a fortune selling khakis to the government for World War II soldiers.

He owned the Baltimore Colts. Don Shula was his coach, but after the ponies lost to Joe Namath and the upstart New York Jets in Super Bowl III, the boss whined that his coach couldn't "win the big one."

Shula fled to the Miami Dolphins in 1970. Two years later, he went 17-0, winning Super Bowl VII. Rosenbloom, with customary flair, traded NFL franchises in 1972, giving up the Colts for the Los Angeles Rams. Hugh Culverhouse, original owner of the Bucs, helped broker the deal.

But let's retrack. . .

By 1957, Georgia's show business fling had taken her to south Florida. She ran with a sizzling crowd. Becoming friends with Joseph P. Kennedy, father of a president-to-be. Noted woman's man. Georgia met Rosenbloom at Kennedy's mansion in Palm Beach. She was 30, he was 52. Both were married.

Fill in the blanks.

After marrying Carroll, life turned especially shiny for Georgia. She had money, mansions, cars and famous pals. "Jimmy Stewart would come by and play the piano," she told the Post-Dispatch in 1995. "Ricardo Montalban, Jack Benny, Cary Grant. They were lovely people and good friends."

After the death of Carroll, his widow took over the Rams. Georgia quickly fired her stepson, Steve Rosenbloom, as a front-office executive.

Carroll's offspring from an earlier marriage had begun, as a teenager, doing Colts laundry. Rosenbloom figured to be succeeded by his kid as franchise boss. By now, so much has become estranged. Steve and Georgia don't speak.

"My dad should be able to see what's happened to his legacy," Steve told the Post-Dispatch. He lives north of New Orleans in Covington, La. "Dad wasn't dead 15 minutes and she was in her glory.

"Dad told me he was trying to take advantage of the widows tax exemption (by making Georgia the prime beneficiary). He said he'd rather trust Georgia to do the right thing than to battle with Uncle Sam. He expected her to sit home and do the social things."

More than a soap opera.

In this season's Rams media guide, there is only scant mention of Carroll Rosenbloom. In Georgia's bio, there is a sentence alluding to a son, Dale Carroll Rosenbloom, she had with the former owner. Twenty years earlier, the Rams were on a similarly self-serving PR track, listing her age as 42 in the media guide, when she actually was 51.

Today, no mention of age.

It gets more than amusing.

But look who's laughing now. Georgia the Guffaw. Like Sunday, standing alongside St. Louis Rams coach Dick Vermeil on the sideline, absorbing the concluding seconds of a playoff smacking of the Minnesota Vikings.

Now, just down an avenue from the Gateway Arch, not far from Busch Stadium where Mark McGwire homers fly, comes the next demonstrative act of Georgia's Rams.

They are favored by 141/2 points to bounce the Tampa Bay Bucs in the NFC Championship Game, vaulting on to Super Bowl XXXIV.

Aiming for Atlanta.

Which is in Georgia.

No, no, this is not fiction. Not a Saturday Night Live skit. Not the human foundation for Cameron Diaz's frenzied character in Oliver Stone's overcooked Any Given Sunday.

Georgia Frontiere is real, no matter how unreal the sound of her personal history. By now, she has curbed the altar trips.

Since the demise of Rosenbloom, there has been just one Georgia marriage, to Hollywood lyricist Dominic Frontiere. That union became a different sort of tragedy.

Frontiere admitted to an illegal scheme of dispensing Super Bowl tickets, in January 1980 after the Rams beat Tampa Bay in the NFC final, earning their only experience in the NFL's ultimate game.

Georgia, of course, was Dominic's source for Super Bowl XIV tickets. She claimed they were meant as gifts but that he opted to sell them. Dom went to prison for income tax evasion. Immediately upon release, he went to divorce court.

For the jokesters, who keep waiting for an eighth, the best bet is Georgia's boyfriend, Earle Weatherwax, described by the Post-Dispatch as a "musician/developer." She has homes in St. Louis and Sedona, Ariz.

Rosenbloom, before his fateful swim, had orchestrated a Rams franchise relocation. After the 1979 season at the L.A. Coliseum, they moved 25 miles south to Anaheim.

There, the reign of widow Georgia would bump along with minimal success until 1995. Claiming an inadequate stadium, insufficient luxury boxes and financial shortfall, she moved Rams who'd belonged to Cleveland, L.A. and Anaheim to the city of her birth.

"It's easy to make fun of Georgia," said Post-Dispatch sports columnist Bernie Miklasz, "but the woman I've seen around the Rams operation since 1995 has been a likable, sincere person who does a lot of good things for St. Louis.

"Georgia tried her best to make the Rams a better team. Finally, all of a sudden, it happened. She's obviously enjoying the ride. Her history makes Georgia Frontiere an easy target, but it's worthy to tell the whole story. There could be a happy ending."

Frontiere is a patron of opera, symphony and the zoo in St. Louis. Although not college educated, Georgia received a doctor of philanthropy from Pepperdine University. Intriguing study.

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