Saints look at making San Antonio 'home' all season
SAN ANTONIO -- Despite their public stance that they hope to play home games in Baton Rouge, La., for the 2005 season, the strong preference of New Orleans Saints officials is to stage the contests here at the Alamodome, and it is a position that team management is expected to soon articulate to NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue.
"The best [scenario] for us is to play the games right here, because, well, this is where we are," coach Jim Haslett said Monday, following his team's first practice in preparation for Sunday's season opener at Carolina. "I know a lot of things have been discussed, but we would like to be here. But it's not up to us. The league will make the decision."
Saints owner Tom Benson, who on Monday afternoon declined to do interviews but did suggest he will sit down with the media later in the week, will meet sometime in the next few days with Tagliabue and other NFL officials. That session, which likely will be in New York, could occur as early as Tuesday, club sources told ESPN.com. It's expected that Benson will review his franchise's options, and also lay out for the league the details in place in San Antonio, where the Saints already have decided to practice all season.
Multiple team sources said on Monday the Saints have focused hard in recent days on San Antonio as their home site.
At a Sunday evening press conference, general manager Mickey Loomis indicated that the Saints would like to play at LSU, because of its proximity to New Orleans and the chance that whatever fans remain in the abandoned city might be able to travel to home contests. Loomis and other team officials pointed out that the Saints have season ticket patrons across the Gulf Coast.
But there is some construction still ongoing at Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge and playing there could be a logistical nightmare, since the city has become a major staging area for the relief efforts in the area. In addition, it might be difficult to secure hotels for visiting teams, since many of the Baton Rouge facilities are already hosting evacuees. And, as is the case with everything Saints officials and players say or do now, there is a sensitivity that must be factored into the equation.
City of San Antonio officials here have been quietly at work to create an incentives package for Benson, one that would include guaranteed sellouts for every contest. There is one significant scheduling conflict, given that the Alamodome is scheduled to be the site of the NCAA volleyball championships Dec. 15-17. The Saints have a home date on Dec. 18, against Carolina, and the San Antonio Express News reported Monday that it takes about 48 hours to install the artificial surface at the dome.
"You just hate to be moving all over the place every week, like nomads, you know" said wide receiver Joe Horn. "If we're living here, maybe we should just play here."
The apparent change of focus to San Antonio came amid reports that Benson planned to move the franchise here permanently and to not issue refunds to season ticketholders in New Orleans. The latest report, on the tickets, came from a New Orleans television station which cited a discussion with Saints executive vice president Arnold Fielkow. There were also indications that some sentiments that Benson may have expressed directly after the impact of Hurricane Katrina have softened in recent days.
Still looking weary, Benson politely rebuffed interview attempts as he left the practice field on Monday afternoon. "Guys, I'm about up to here right now," Benson said, holding his hand to his chin. "Talk to Greg [Bensel, director of media relations] and hopefully we can do something later in the week."
Benson likely does not want to make any public comments until after he has an opportunity to meet face-to-face with Tagliabue and league officials.
Responding to the reports that have suggested the Saints will never play again in New Orleans, Haslett said: "If somebody was saying that, obviously, they don't know what they are talking about."
Once again on Monday, there was a sense that New Orleans players and coaches feel that the league is not doing enough and has stacked the deck against them. Players and most coaches, including Haslett, were unaware that the NFL had set the date for their "home" opener at Giants Stadium for Monday night, Sept. 19.
"Oh, well, more of the same," said safety Jay Bellamy.
An exasperated Haslett, clearly operating on very little sleep, and only six days from the regular-season opener at Carolina, joked again about the possibility that the league will decide to have the Saints play all their "home" games at the sites of their opponents.
"We'll do whatever we have to do," Haslett said. "If that's what the NFL says we have to do, then we'll do it."
For the second day in a row, Haslett's cited the Saints' success on the road during his five-year tenure. New Orleans is 24-16 in road games since Haslett arrived in 2000, and just 18-22 at home in that period.
Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com. To check out Len's chat archive, click here .
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