NFL, Coliseum in preliminary stages for return to L.A.

Updated: November 11, 2005, 9:06 AM ET
Associated Press

LOS ANGELES -- NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue emerged from a closed-door meeting with the mayor, stood on the steps of City Hall and announced that a preliminary agreement had been reached to finally return a team to Los Angeles.

After answering reporters' questions for 15 minutes, even he couldn't gauge the significance of his announcement Thursday.

"I'd rather not try," Tagliabue said as he was guided into the back seat of a limousine and whisked away.

Tagliabue said the agreement was between the league and the Los Angeles Coliseum, former home to the Rams and Raiders.

But as if to make his intentions less clear, he also spoke positively regarding a team playing at a facility proposed for the Angel Stadium parking lot in Anaheim. And he didn't rule out the Rose Bowl in Pasadena as a possible home field, either.

"It's the first time we've had agreement on term sheets," Tagliabue said, referring to the NFL and the Coliseum. "We're one step closer, two or three steps closer. Whether it's 2009, 2010, or 2000-whatever, our goal is to have definitive agreements on all subject matters well before our league meetings in March."

Those meetings will be held in 4½ months. The "2000-whatever" brought up by Tagliabue could be light years down the road.

Tagliabue said there have been no in-depth discussions on whether the Los Angeles area would get an expansion or existing team. He said last month that future expansion was unlikely anywhere but Los Angeles.

The Los Angeles area, second-largest television market in the country, has been without an NFL team since the Raiders moved from the Coliseum back to Oakland and the Rams moved from Anaheim to St. Louis before the 1995 season.

After announcing plans in the spring of 1999 to put an expansion team in the Coliseum, the NFL was unable to reach an agreement with the Los Angeles backers and instead awarded the 32nd franchise to Houston that October.

Houston businessman Bob McNair and his backers offered to pay $700 million for the new franchise and spend another $310 million on a stadium, making it the NFL's first billion-dollar deal. That got the job done, and the Texans began play in 2002.

In making the Thursday announcement, Tagliabue pointed to the significant progress made in the past year with the Coliseum in making his announcement. He spoke following a meeting with Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and before a session with Anaheim Mayor Curt Pringle.

"I think the critical thing now is we're at the point where it's recognized, certainly by us, that the time is right," Tagliabue said. "We have to get agreements finalized. We'll be pursuing agreements in Anaheim. We're going to work with both communities for an agreement."

Tentative plans call for the NFL to finance construction of a $500 million stadium inside the Coliseum, home to the Rams from 1946-79 and the Raiders from 1982-94.

Tagliabue also said it was important to make sure Southern California, the nation's top-ranked college team, was comfortable with any agreement, since the Trojans have made the Coliseum their home since 1923.

Tagliabue planned on meeting with USC coach Pete Carroll later Thursday. Carroll coached the New York Jets for one year and the New England Patriots for three before becoming the Trojans' coach in 2001.

The commissioner met with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger late Wednesday.

"We are talking of having a fourth [team] at the Coliseum in Los Angeles, maybe the fifth in Anaheim," Schwarzenegger told the Los Angeles Times. San Francisco, Oakland and San Diego are the homes of existing NFL franchises.

While Tagliabue didn't rule out the Rose Bowl, the Pasadena City Council voted 5-2 with one abstention last June to pursue a plan for the stadium that doesn't involve the NFL. Carson dropped out of contention in May when city officials decided to build a mall on its proposed site.

City Councilman Bernard Parks said after listening to Tagliabue that he believes the Coliseum will eventually get an existing team rather than an expansion team.

"The NFL is going to have a say on who's going to come here. The Coliseum has no role in selecting a team," Parks said.

Asked when it might happen, Parks replied: "I don't know. Nobody's signed anything. They've got to say they're coming."

That being said, Parks expressed optimism.

"In my judgment, I don't believe these business people waste their time and money," he said. "They've spent a lot of time and money."

Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press