San Antonio slithers to steal Saints; S.A. mayor calls team attempts to play in La. 'disaster'; Benson fires VP Fielkow
Most telling was a banner hanging from the chamber of commerce, which read: SAINTS - Keep the Faith. The first two letters of SAINTS (SA) were in a different color from the rest of the word, obviously representing San Antonio. The message was clear.
Now, after weeks of city officials denying their desire to pillage New Orleans of its NFL franchise through some false veil of generosity in a time of need, the truth so evident within San Antonio has been made public nationally.
San Antonio mayor Phil Hardberger is quoted in today's New Orleans Times-Picayune as saying, "I, as mayor of San Antonio, would like to have the team stay here permanently."
What does he think about the impact of such a move on New Orleans? In the same article, Hardberger says, "That's the way it goes sometimes."
The state of Texas is following suit, as governor Rick Perry has been quoted as identifying San Antonio as the ideal place for a Saints relocation. Plus, Texas state senator Jeff Wentworth is looking into state coffers to develop a "Saints relocation war chest."
And, surprise surprise, Saints owner Tom Benson was confirmed in the same article as agreeing to enter into negotiations with San Antonio after the 2005 season to acheive the same goal.
While Benson won't discuss anything until after the 2005 season, Hardberger added, "That's his desire as well. I'm pretty comfortable in saying he wants to be here...Benson has said on numerous occasions he wants to be in San Antonio."
Never mind Benson's previous declarations of his dedication to the city of New Orleans, the state of Louisiana, or anything else Benson has ever said.
And Hardberger went on, apparently taking a page from the Benson playbook to disgustingly trash hurricane-torn Louisiana. Hardberger is quoted in the same article as saying the Saints' arrangements to play games in Baton Rouge is "a disaster" - a very poor choice of words given the context - and that "Benson doesn't want to be in Baton Rouge."
True, ticket sales have not been brisk in Baton Rouge. But the area is still dealing with the lasting effects of Katrina. There's a lot of other out-of-the-ordinary things going on in Baton Rouge, and the Saints for the moment are not on the overwhelmed city's periphery.
I suppose ticket sales in Baton Rouge have become a referendum, which the team denied just over a week ago. Of course, the main Saints official quoted was VP Arnold Fielkow, who was fired yesterday (see below).
But make no mistake about this: For one city to open its arms in assistance to another city in desparate need, and then kick that city while it is on life support, reeks of unbelievable gall and insensitivity.
To have the team's owner willingly go along with it, and effectively spit on the city that has been so dedicated to his team, is even lower.
All of this results in a column in today's Times-Picayune by John DeShazier entitled "Benson's greed is his only loyalty" and featuring such jabs as:
"San Antonio doesn't owe New Orleans anything, though you'd have hoped common courtesy would have ruled the day. Pouncing on a city that's in no shape to defend itself isn't exactly sporting, but there's nothing in the rulebook against it...But Benson, on the other hand, owes New Orleans. He owes fans that have supported his franchise since he bought it in 1985. He owes a region, the Gulf Coast, which has been faithful to him despite his continued threats and flirtations with relocation, despite the fact that in his first 20 years as owner, his teams have had nine losing records, four seasons of 8-8 and one playoff victory. He owes a state that has sweetened his pot every time he has gone to the bargaining table looking to upgrade his lease agreement. But he seems to be in no mood to show allegiance to anything farther away than his wallet...So, it seems, he's willing to talk about walking out on New Orleans while it's on its knees, after it has supported his franchise through more bad times than good, after he has been given a few sweetheart deals in the name of remaining competitive. To borrow two words from Saints coach Jim Haslett after Sunday's loss, there's 'chicken -- -- -- -- ,' and there's this. And 'this' smells a whole lot worse."SAINTS FIRE FIELKOW
Saints vice president Arnold Fielkow was fired Monday by Benson. Fielkow,who had been with the team for six years, said that Benson's actions "were both unwarranted and unfair."
The New Orleans Times-Picayune said that Benson offered Fielkow the opportunity to resign within five minutes, and be paid the remainder of his contract if he kept all Saints' dealings private.
Fielkow, who was the chief negotiator for Benson's sweetheart $187 million deal with Louisiana and also helped deliver a string of 36 straight sellouts for the Saints, refused.
Then, Benson canned him.
Fielkow confirmed to the Times-Picayune that he'll "have more to say later." Given the shocking termination, it will be very interesting to hear what he will have to say.
According to bayoubuzz.com, a large rift had arisen between Fielkow and Benson over the team's commitment to Louisiana. Fielkow was supportive of playing home games in Louisiana, while Benson was not. The site asserts that Fielkow lost his job due to his advocacy for Louisiana.