City of Angels an ideal spot for Saints
Just wondering: What about L.A.?
The Saints are an NFL team without a home. Los Angeles is a giant home without an NFL team. The Saints need a place to play. L.A. has places to play, plural.
The Saints, stripped of just about everything remotely normal connected with their lives, suddenly find themselves looking for a soft landing that, essentially, can see them through this season without a huge, long-term promise. Is there anyplace on Earth that does short-term commitment better than L.A.?
And most significantly, from the NFL's perspective: It is Los Angeles -- not Baton Rouge or San Antonio or anyplace else -- where Tha League would most like to reconnect with pro football fans, to see if it can awaken a sleeping giant of a market. It has a chance to do so right now, with virtually nothing lost if the venture doesn't pan out.
What about L.A.?
This is an opportunity wrought of sheer tragedy, and one that nobody can possibly feel good about; but for the NFL the overarching fact of the matter is that the Saints will play somewhere this season. It's strictly a question of where.
Saints owner Tom Benson is a New Orleans native, but he made his fortune over parts of four decades in San Antonio in the car-dealership business, and he is a known quantity in that city. When Benson called this week, San Antonio officials quickly made arrangements for the NFL team to relocate there at least short-term so that it could continue to prepare for the season and possibly begin it there.
Benson may have eyes on San Antonio as a potential permanent relocation (he has made noises in the past about the Saints' future in New Orleans), but there's almost no reading of the NFL's powers-that-be that would suggest they favor such a move. Still, at this point San Antonio's willingness to house the team is as welcome -- and appreciated -- as anything in the world.
But the full season itself, that's another issue. It's clear the decision on where the Saints will play their "home" games is really one the NFL's collective ruling class makes, not just Benson. Paul Tagliabue and the lads need to look at the best place for the team in total, and that includes any ancillary benefit to the league itself.
You haven't heard much about Los Angeles to this point in the discussion, and that's surely a reflection of how fresh is the wound from Hurricane Katrina. So far, the conversation around the Saints has naturally gravitated toward how to keep the team within reach of its emotionally wounded and life-disrupted fan base, which explains why Baton Rouge (and LSU's giant stadium) would be cited so quickly as an attractive alternative.
But if I were the league and I suddenly had a team without a home stadium, I'd think long and hard -- and make more than a few phone calls -- before dismissing one of the greatest TV markets (and best visual game-day images) in America, even if only for one season's worth of games. Is it really such a reach to think the NFL could choose Los Angeles for the year?
Since the departure of the Rams and Raiders, L.A. essentially has operated just fine outside the purview of the NFL, or so its denizens seem to say. The collective folklore, given an almost unnatural credence over the layering years of no-home-team seasons, is that the city doesn't need the league in any special way. Well, maybe.
The NFL, on the other hand, has never stopped longing, or lusting. Just about every offseason brings a fresh round of potential L.A. franchise suitors, either those seeking to start anew or those who want to move a struggling team out of its current place, and league officials have yet to actively oppose any such talk. There isn't really anything Los Angeles can do to disqualify itself as a potential NFL destination. It's just too delicious a market for that.
L.A. has the Coliseum (home of USC's Trojans) and Pasadena's Rose Bowl (UCLA), and between those two venues, the Saints certainly wouldn't lack for seating capacity. Weather is nearly ideal, beginning now and extending into the foreseeable infinity. Los Angeles would provide Saints players and officials a single move, to the West Coast, for the season, period. After that, everything comes off the table and, presumably, New Orleans goes back to being in Louisiana.
In the meantime, the league gives Los Angeles fans a chance to see some NFL games again in person, to maybe rediscover a bit of the appeal of the pro game itself. It is a risk-free way of gauging the demographics of a future home-team fan base there. It's greasing the skids for the eventual re-entry of a team to the L.A. market -- because, sooner or later, that will happen. It's a travesty that the area has sat even this long without its own team, no matter how much else competes for the sport fan's attention there.
It may be that NFL executives are reluctant to openly consider L.A. because, coming even as Katrina's tragedy continues to unfold, such conversation would appear avaricious. If so, that is a noble gesture that misses the point. The Saints are going to play this season somewhere, and it sure isn't the Superdome.
As the team prepared to finish up a week's work in San Jose and fly to San Antonio after Thursday's exhibition game against the former L.A. Raiders, Saints spokesman Greg Bensel said, "We have to find a place to host these [regular-season] games. All options are on the table."
If that is truly so, then somebody ought to be making some calls to the Pacific time zone. It's strictly a way of making something decent out of something horrible.
Mark Kreidler is a columnist for The Sacramento Bee and a regular contributor to ESPN.com. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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