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

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Analysis of Tagliabue press conference; Jones comments on WWL; S.A. 'Water Cooler' again rips La.; S.A. courting Marlins

Having reviewed the articles regarding NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue's press conference and visit to New Orleans on Monday, a lot of things passed through my mind.

One, there was not a lot of mention regarding Tagliabue's assertion that the Saints are under no obligation to play in New Orleans next year, since the lease apparently provides that if the team cannot play one game in the Superdome, it doesn't have to play any games there.

Perhaps Tags was seeking to express that the NFL is being generous in spite of this. But it came off a little differently. I'll try to take the "glass half full" perspective, since by all accounts he is New Orleans' biggest advocate in this debacle.

For example, Dave Dixon was quoted in the Times-Picayune after hearing from Tagliabue to say, "The commissioner has the best interests of New Orleans at heart. I sincerely believe that."

Which is why I think Tagliabue pegged ex-Saints president and LSU alum Eddie Jones to be his eyes and ears in New Orleans. Jones left the Saints as president and chief operating officer when Tom Benson took over, and will make a genuinely fair determination of the situation, above and beyond Benson's jaded assertions. (A previous post on Jones, including his history, can be found here.)

Speaking of Benson, who was not spoken of at the Tagliabue press conference, he gave a brief speech at a breakfast Monday and was described by more than one source to be "conciliatory."

Too bad he hasn't made any effort to bridge the enormous gap between himself and Saints fans.

Benson was quoted at the bottom of this Baton Rouge Advocate article as stating that "nothing would make me happier" than to return to New Orleans, but that the Saints will lose "a lot of money" in 2005 and that 'he can't continue to operate at a deficit.'

Tagliabue also stated that it is very likely there will be Saints games in San Antonio again next season. To which many in Louisiana replied, why?

Why does the team have to play in San Antonio? Understandably, LSU cannot play host to every Saints home game; it's got eight Tiger home games to prepare for in 2006. And the Superdome's most optimistic re-opening date is November 1, notwithstanding any other weather predicaments that may occur.

So why not the recently renovated 53,000-seat Independence Stadium in Shreveport? Why not keep the Saints in Louisiana? Granted, it's not as nice a facility as the Alamodome, but it's a means to an end. If you're going to move the team several hours away from its home site, why not at least keep it in the home state? No other NFL franchises exist between New Orleans and Shreveport; the Houston Texans sit between New Orleans and San Antonio. Plus, San Antonio is a grueling eight-hour drive from New Orleans on I-10. Shreveport is a little over half that.

Also, it would give the team a better opportunity to utilize its, as Tagliabue himself put it, "first class" training facility in Metairie, instead of having to sit in an abandoned water works building and dress out in a high school baseball locker room (as it is presently doing in San Antonio).

It's a temporary fix that could spread the Saints market without jeopardizing a permanent move to a vulture city like San Antonio. It also would instill confidence in Saints fans of the league's true dedication of a return to New Orleans, which probably would help boost ticket sales.

Tagliabue himself stated, "We are trying to gather as much information as we can in the next four to six weeks to make some decisions to eliminate the uncertainty in a way that's suitable for the players, coaches, the entire Saints organization, and most of all, for the fans."

Making a schedule that includes San Antonio, seven hours from Baton Rouge and (as stated above) eight hours from New Orleans, is not the way to do that for fans, players, or coaches.

But I digress...

San Antonio, of course, was thrilled with this news. Mayor Phil Hardburglar's chief assistant was quoted in the San Antonio Express-News as saying, "[T]here will be a lot of games played in San Antonio next season."

And, the Express-News points out that the average attendance over two games in San Antonio was over 62,000, while the mean in Baton Rouge was almost 43,000. To be fair, the article states that the Baton Rouge games were played after the Saints' season was clearly heading downhill, but it does not mention that Tommy Boy has essentially destroyed his support in southeast Louisiana (especially in Baton Rouge) with his actions.

Another point, of course, is that Tagliabue stated, "What kinds of expectations are reasonable for the National Football League, for the Saints, for the community, for the fans, for the Superdome. What kind of expectations are reasonable for the 2006 season, and what types of expectations should we be having for the 2007 season and beyond...We want to be a part of the recovery and rebuilding process, but we want to fit in the proper order of priority."

It's a way of saying, we're still not sure what to do just yet. But if the Saints don't stay, hey, we gave it a shot.

Tagliabue also noted that he plans to return in early January, when more decisions will be made after an addition four-to-six week assessment period.

The bottom line on all this is that it's still a wait-and-see holding pattern, and that we'll learn more in weeks to come.

In any event, the best comments by far on the whole matter were made by WWL's Jim Henderson in his must-read commentary. Among the real gems:
"Find out how many tickets get sold – not distributed – for the Lions’ game on the Alamodome on Christmas Eve."

"If you could have made the game Sunday in Baton Rouge, you could have seen why there’s a perceived lack of support for this football team at this time – we have another losing football team, a head coach with little support from the fans, a quarterback with less and an owner with none."

"Sorry about that ice storm that kept you away from Baton Rouge Sunday. No hard feelings. No one should be blamed for being the victims of the weather – should they?"
As always, we shall see.

NFL liaison Eddie Jones appeared on WWL sports radio Tuesday evening, stating that he will have some office space in New Orleans and will serve, in a sense, as the "commissioner on the ground" there.

He will act to assess the return of the city's services and businesses with the NFL in mind. Most importantly, Jones stated that he is "absolutely optimistic" about the Saints staying in New Orleans, and that New Orleans and the Saints are synonymous with one another, but that he cannot allow his own emotions to drive his determinations for the NFL.

Jones will definitely play a crucial role in the next several weeks and months, and it's a definite belief that he will be a straight shooter on the situation.

The San Antonio Express-News "Water Cooler" column is at it yet again.

The "Water Cooler" has hammered Louisiana before, and now asserts that New Orleans is "no market" compared to San Antonio, and mocks "Baton Rouge"-size crowds.

It even smacks Tagliabue yet again (as it has before) by stating he "couldn't spell Alamo if you spotted him the vowels."

And, imagine this, the column essentially states that San Antonio needs to make an even stronger effort of getting the Saints, calling on the city to demand a spot at the negotiating table and a personal meeting with Tags.

But it also wants the city to play hard-to-get, instead of its admittedly "big easy" behavior in recent months.

Hopefully, the NFL will turn San Antonio away like a bad date, but it seems less and less apparent that will happen now.

As if one professional sports courtship weren't enough, San Antonio now is flirting with the prospects of landing Major League Baseball's Florida Marlins.

At least Miami wasn't destroyed in Hurricane Wilma, necessitating the Marlins to find a temporary home that San Antonio could attempt to make permanent.


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Anonymous ashley said...

I like how the San Antonio paper has that "water cooler" column. That way, the writer can stay anonymous. Brave decision on their part.

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