saints (n.) - NFL franchise presently based in New Orleans; boondoggle (n.) - an unnecessary or wasteful project or activity; saintsdoggle (n.) - the Saints' potential relocation situation in New Orleans, and the resulting boondoggle by Louisiana to keep the team from leaving

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Irsay, Modell, Adams...Benson; Saints' N.O. jazz funeral approaching

Robert Irsay, Art Modell, and Bud Adams, meet Tom Benson, the newest inductee into the NFL’s Hall of Dishonor and Legion of Endless Fan Scorn.

Benson, by the way, is well on his way to out-scum all three of you combined. And that’s not an easy task to pull off.

Robert, in a flash you packed up midnight moving vans and hauled the legendary Baltimore Colts to Indianapolis back in 1984. Art, you lied to Cleveland fans and ripped the beloved historic Browns from that city, filling the void in Baltimore left by Robert. Bud, you announced in 1996 that the Houston Oilers would not renew a lease with the Astrodome, and you relocated to Tennessee two years later.

All of that is bush-league compared to Benson.

Just ask Arnold Fielkow.

Tommy Boy has made one proclamation after another about his love for the city of New Orleans and the state of Louisiana. He claims he “saved the Saints” with his purchase of the team in 1985. He’s seen his team receive fan adulation and strong support, to the tune of 36 straight sellouts from 2000-2004, in spite of having an utterly poor product on the field most of the time.

Now, he’s seen New Orleans ripped apart by Hurricane Katrina. He’s publicly pledged that the city’s beloved Saints will be at the forefront of rebuilding, saying shortly after the devastating storm, “As we move forward together, the Saints look forward to serving as a leader in the rebuilding and revitalization of our great community.”

At least that’s what he told Saints fans to their faces.

Behind their backs, he has been working to pull off the most selfish move in NFL history.

While he scoffed before at the needs of a state in financial desperation in favor of lining his own golden pockets, he now spits his hypocrisy on a city in ruins and the scattering of citizens in need of some shred of hope to grasp onto. He never wanted the Saints to play another game in Louisiana after Katrina made landfall. He really didn’t seem to want them to play another game there before Katrina either.

After laying the groundwork for months to leave the city after 2005 anyway, as has been documented through the many posts on this site, Benson pushed for all eight Saints home games in 2005 to be played in San Antonio, and apparently has lobbied behind the scenes to move there permanently. Fielkow made statements that the team should play at least some games in Louisiana, which helped spur NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue to insist the Saints play four games in Baton Rouge, near displaced evacuees.

It’s that loyalty to the state that apparently cost Fielkow his job.

And it’s a lack of loyalty to the state, and to Saints fans who have supported the team through thin and thinner, that has resulted in statewide disdain for Benson’s antics. It also will ultimately result in the Saints’ death knell in New Orleans.

Benson hopes to boogie his jazz funeral eight hours west, to a vulture city that is reaching a new low in its search for an NFL franchise.

The tenuous situation reached its breaking point Monday, when San Antonio mayor Phil Hardberger openly smacked an otherwise-overwhelmed Baton Rouge for its lagging ticket sales and confirmed that Benson would enter into negotiations with the city and the state of Texas to keep the Saints there.

This all followed Louisiana's revelation that it planned to reduce its annual Benson subsidy from $15 million to $3.3 million next summer, since the team only played a couple of preseason games in the Superdome this year.

This dovetails with the Saints’ contract with Louisiana, which provides that all arrangements are off if the Superdome is rendered unusable or destroyed by an act of God - the force majeure clause. The Saints have a 90-day window from Katrina’s landfall to utilize this provision, which expires November 29. Once they utilize the force majeure clause, the team can leave the state without paying any penalty.

And it seems likely that this is precisely the path Benson will take.

Legal arguments aside, the damage has been done. Benson’s actions this time have rendered an already fractured relationship with Louisiana and New Orleans completely irreparable.

Maybe New Orleans won’t be able to financially support an NFL franchise in the near future. But there are ways to handle a bad situation like a classy pro, and disgraceful ways to mishandle it - like a prominent member of the NFL Hall of Dishonor and Legion of Endless Fan Scorn.

Tommy Boy could have stepped up to the plate, seized an opportunity to secure a Louisiana legacy like no other, and knocked it out of the park like Albert Pujols did last night to Brad Lidge’s hanging breaking ball (unfortunately).

Instead, lest we forget, Tom Benson is Tom Benson. If you can’t be the best of the best, you might as well be the worst of the worst.

Right, Robert? Art? Bud?

It’s one reason ticket sales in Baton Rouge haven’t taken off. Benson has burned his bridges in southeast Louisiana. He might as well be General Sherman to New Orleans’ NFL Atlanta.

Speaking of the NFL, it will be interesting to see what the league has to say about this week’s developments.

Tagliague has been lukewarm at best to the thought of an NFL franchise in San Antonio. The bulls-eye has been on Los Angeles for years now.

Perhaps the league will be embarrassed by Benson’s prostituting the Saints to San Antonio, and not overly enthusiastic to bring a franchise to a city that openly kicks another while it is down in the name of opportunity. Perhaps the owners will vote to buy the Saints themselves and move them to Los Angeles. Perhaps someone else will make Benson an "offer he can't refuse" with the NFL's help. And perhaps they will bring another franchise back to the Crescent City once the city fully recovers.

But undoubtedly, because of Benson’s shamelessly shameful antics, it's more likely than ever that the New Orleans Saints are no more. I'll say it now - their last game in Louisiana will take place on December 18 against the Carolina Panthers in LSU’s Tiger Stadium.

Hopefully this year will also be the last Benson has as an NFL owner. Even in the company of Irsay, Modell, and Adams, he’s perilously close to entering a league of his own, one that might shame even them, and one that the NFL - for its own public relations sake - should want no part of.