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

Monday, October 31, 2005

Surly Benson swipes at camera, Tagliabue commits to Louisiana; Are the two related?

We all know by now that the Saints got drummed by Nick Saban and the Dolphins in Tiger Stadium on Sunday.

The real story wasn't the game, however.

First, Tom Benson yet again proved he is unmatched in his public relations fumbling, as he was caught on camera in a particularly surly mood, apparently cursing out a fan and taking a swipe at a WWL-TV camera that was filming it all. (Video footage can be seen here. Credit to for the photo inset.)

An NFL spokesperson said today that Tommy Boy isn't likely to be punished by the league.

This, after Louisiana governor Kathleen Blanco was quoted as saying, "Mr. Benson would certainly like to see the rhetoric toned down, and has expressed that to me. We all need to do our part, including Mr. Benson."

Great job, Tommy Boy. Outstanding way to do your part.

Of course, perhaps in his own eyes, he's already been punished.

Just hours before, NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue had met with Benson and Blanco, and then came out in support of keeping the team in Louisiana.

According to, Tagliabue said, "The Saints are Louisiana's team and have been since the late '60s when my predecessor Pete Rozelle welcomed them to the league as New Orleans' team and Louisiana's team. Our focus continues to be on having the Saints in Louisiana."

Somewhere, Arnold Fielkow must have been smiling.

Tagliabue added, "I think the reports this week about the longterm landing spot being Los Angeles were nonsensical."

(I don't. I think Tags is engaging in some nifty p.r. spin.

For example, he also was quoted in the New Orleans Times-Picayune as saying, "We have to be realistic and consider not only the facilities issue but the human issue. It's more about the overall recovery of the area than it is about facilities. We need to realize there's been a tremendous human toll, and for the Saints and NFL to come back in the proper way we need to recognize the human toll and take it into account."

If they can't come back in whatever the "proper way" is, then is believing the Saints will end up in L.A. nonsensical? Probably not.)

Tagliabue also mentioned that the team could be renamed the "Louisiana Saints" or "Gulf Coast Saints" in an effort to garner wider support for the team.

He also was asked about Benson's and San Antonio's angling for a team in the Alamo City, and was quoted as responding as follows:
"Teams don't operate as free agents so they can run around the country and play where they want to play. We've got a very specific set of guidelines on that, and my assumption is that every owner is complying with that policy."
According to the L.A. Times, Tagliabue added:
"The business model for the Saints needs to be changed. It needs to be expanded. I think a fresh look has to be taken at the lease arrangements, the master agreement arrangements. From my perspective, they were flawed. That's not to say that they were too favorable to one side or the other; they just weren't well thought through, and well-structured."
Which all had to sting from Benson's perspective.

Those comments, along with whatever was said behind closed doors and the poor play of the Saints on Sunday, probably led to his childish tirade, which is embarrassing and especially unbecoming of a big-time professional sports owner.

It's not as if he's earned a glimmering reputation among his own team's fan base.

For example, the L.A. Times reported that "Fans tailgating outside Tiger Stadium had a sign reading 'Tom Benson, Ya Mama Would Be Ashamed,' and the crowd booed when Benson's name was mentioned in a scoreboard video about the Saints' contributions to hurricane relief efforts."

(And that, of course, was before the camera incident.)

The end result is that Benson will be practically harnessed by the NFL committee appointed to keep watch over him.

It's the best thing for the league, the team, and Benson himself.

Ultimately, what we really know is that there is no end result as of yet - except that the team won't end up in San Antonio permanently. Though Tagliabue provided some inspiring words for Louisianians, the fact is that we remain firmly entrenched in a holding pattern, waiting and seeing what will take place over the next several weeks and months.


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Saturday, October 29, 2005

L.A. Times calls for NFL to keep Saints in N.O., while S.A. looking into coffers to 'keep' Saints

An editorial in today's Los Angeles Times calls for the NFL to keep the Saints in New Orleans, and indicates that while the city wants a league franchise, it does not want to take the beleaguered city's team.

"A city for the Saints" proclaims that "National Football League Commissioner Paul Tagliabue and the NFL owners have to do everything in their power to keep the Saints in New Orleans," and that "NFL owners, eager to protect the league's brand, need to find a way to recommit to New Orleans."

It goes on to call a Saints move from New Orleans "a disaster for the league's image."

Most importantly, the editorial says that L.A. does not want the Saints under these circumstances:
"As for Tagliabue's desire to see a team again in Los Angeles before he retires, the city is happy to welcome an expansion franchise (though not happy enough to subsidize it). But the NFL should know that we do not want any part of the Saints."
Now there's the difference between a city with genuine compassion for another, and San Antonio, which is fast becoming the definition of the opposite end of the spectrum.

In that vein, the San Antonio Express-News reports that local business leaders are checking into stadium financing options to "keep the Saints," as the headline says.

I thought New Orleans was fighting to "keep" the Saints, whereas San Antonio is trying to "get" them. Amazing how nearly four decades is overlooked after one city plays host for a mere two months.

In any event...check out this editorial by Peter Finney of the New Orleans Times-Picayune. It's a call to Tom Benson to sit at the negotiating table and get things right to "keep" (in its proper usage) the team in New Orleans. A good read.


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Friday, October 28, 2005

More Benson criticism voiced; S.A. paper's column ridicules New Orleans

The New York Times today focused attention on Saints fans' opinions of Tom Benson, featuring a photo (see below) by Jim Wilson of one of the "billboards of appreciation" for Benson from New Orleans.

The article started with one fan stating he will wear a paper bag to Sunday's Saints-Dolphins game at Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge. The same fan then said he's pass the bag around to other fans to start a collection for Benson.

Also in the article was a strong quote on Benson from Gary R. Roberts, Tulane Law School's sports law program director:
"I don't know whether he is a bastard or a public-relations disaster."
Not exactly the best two options to have. In either case, it's clear he's mishandled the Saints' situation.

In spite of that, some are calling on those who have criticized Benson to back off. The Shreveport Times' Tim Brando sounded off on that sentiment in "Be careful when demonizing Saints' owner Benson."

(I'm guessing Roberts missed Brando's column.)

Brando's opinion is that "We all have to be measured in our criticism of Benson, not because he might call you out in his next open letter advertisement. But because demonizing him doesn't help us in either keeping this team or getting another one once he leaves."

Marc Ganis, president of a prominent sports consulting firm, agrees, according to the above New York Times article. Ganis was quoted as saying, "If you criticize the man enough, as has been going on with Mayor Nagin, you'll get a situation where, if the Saints come back, who's going to buy tickets? (Benson) has been bashed to the point where it may make the environment an impossible place to operate."

If that's the only reason to temper criticism of Benson (and it is), then shame on Benson. Tommy Boy needs to do something radical to change how he's perceived.

Perhaps Paul Tagliabue, or that NFL committee keeping tabs on him, will show him the light.

We'll see how things go this weekend.

One of the San Antonio Express-News features, the "Water Cooler on Wheels," ripped New Orleans in its most recent edition.

The article makes light of the 17th Street Levee (which actually was a flood wall) breach, comparing the disaster that destroyed New Orleans' Lakeview community with San Antonio's public debate on the Saints' situation. The quote:
"That drip, drip, drip you hear is the sound of the leaky logic that seems to have swamped the public debate on the Saints' situation. The discourse, which entered a new phase Thursday with Mayor Phil Hardberger's come-what-may rejection of a new stadium, has sprung so may leaks of late that it makes the 17th Street Levee look watertight."
For those who lost everything in that flood wall breach, or those who personally know people who did, that misguided attempt at humor reeks of classlessness.

And some in that city wonder why it is receiving such flak.

There's more.

The "Water Cooler" goes on:
"The entire state of Louisiana, it seems, maintains that keeping the Saints in New Orleans is absolutely critical to rebuilding the city. What — does Deuce McAllister do dry wall on the side?"
Again, great topic for a joke. What, were the Terri Schiavo puns all used up? How about a nice friendly laugher about starving children? Or a quip about Parkinson's disease?

Then, the "Water Cooler" jokingly compares a return of the Saints to New Orleans as something that also should be extended to other disaster areas around the world - Islamabad, Jakarta, and Cancun.

The article then reveals that it views New Orleans' "circumstances" as an opportunity to swoop in and make a franchise grab:
"Early chatter that the city has the chance to prove itself worthy of another NFL team — if the Saints slip through our fingers — no longer holds water. If the current circumstances don't lead to the Saints landing here, no set of circumstances will."
That's a shame. Instead of supporting a city at its most vulnerable point, it's openly viewed as an opportunity to sow its weakness and reap the benefits.

But I digress.

I'll say this: I hope San Antonio never suffers the type of "circumstances" New Orleans has during Katrina. And I hope it never has to be in such a situation and then have to deal with another "compassionate" city openly campaigning for the Spurs, and then be ridiculed for wanting to keep them in San Antonio.

Will the Saints end up returning to New Orleans?

At this point, the signs seem to point to "no."

However, to not only discourage the city from wanting them to, but disparage it at the same time...

You get the point.


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Thursday, October 27, 2005

NFL officials confirm Saints-to-L.A. possibility; Archie Manning trashes Benson; SOS to Tagliabue; Training facility in 'very good condition'

Today's Washington Post notes that the NFL and the Saints are attempting to determine whether to move the team to Los Angeles permanently.

The article, "Saints could end up in L.A." by Mark Maske and Leonard Shapiro, cites insider sources for the story.

As for San Antonio, which has shamelessly used the Katrina tragedy as an opportunity to grab the Saints, the article states that "the league has no interest in that city as a permanent home for the club."

One source quoted in the story even went so far as to say, "We have absolutely no obligation to San Antonio. None."

That source noted that the Saints could stay in San Antonio next season, then move to Los Angeles for the 2007 campaign. That scenario had been reported by ESPN's Chris Mortensen this past weekend.

Also, the source didn't rule out a return to New Orleans, though Los Angeles looms large: "If you're looking at it long-term, L.A. is a no-brainer. But I also think we need to give New Orleans and Louisiana a shot."

The Post also reports that Louisiana officials are repairing the Superdome at costs presently ranging from $125 million to $200 million, all of which should be covered by insurance or federal funds. Additional improvements could have a tag of an additional $175 million, which the state would have to come up with.

One owner, who also is a member of the NFL committee to watch over Tom Benson, is quoted in the article as saying that "'the league is trying to do the right thing' and keep the franchise in New Orleans, but might not be able to do so because the city 'has terrible troubles.'"

The most popular Saint of all has come out in full opposition to the antics exhibited by Benson.

Archie Manning was interviewed by Rick Cleveland of the Mississippi Clarion-Ledger, and had the following to say:
"I'd like to say I'm shocked and surprised, but the truth is I'm not. As a New Orleans resident and a long-time Saint, I am embarrassed by it.

"These fans, these New Orleans and Gulf South fans have filled the Superdome 39 straight times over the last few seasons. The Saints have the highest average attendance per victory in the history of professional football. They don't deserve this.

"They don't deserve for the owner to turn his tail and run before the first house goes under water.

"I understand that business is business, but what (Benson) is doing is not right. Come next spring or next fall, if it's just not possible to come back, then OK, but the people of New Orleans deserve better than what they're getting from Benson now."
For Manning, one of New Orleans' classiest citizens/representatives, to come out in such fashion, speaks volumes.

A group of Saints fans have united their efforts and hired an airplane to fly a banner over Tiger Stadium this Sunday, during the Saints-Dolphins matchup.

The banner will read, "Mr. Tagliabue: SOS — Save our New Orleans Saints."

The San Antonio Express-News reports today that Louisiana officials have indicated to Benson that the team's Metairie training facility, on which Benson has sought to cancel the lease due to damages, is in "very good condition."

That's acccording to Larry Roedel, an attorney representing the commission that runs the Louisiana Superdome.

The state's chief negotiator in its talks with the Saints, Tim Coulon, also chimed in, saying, "It looks to be very functional, very usable. I think it is a better facility than the facility they have to practice at now (in San Antonio)."

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Benson unleashes full-page CYA ad in Times-Picayune

Saints owner Tom Benson took out a full-page ad in today's New Orleans Times-Picayune and Baton Rouge Advocate, seeking to weaken the criticism he has received for the last two weeks' news involving the club.

A pdf link to the ad can be found here.

Interestingly enough, the ad comes four days before the Saints kick off in Baton Rouge's Tiger Stadium against the Miami Dolphins. Ticket sales have lagged, in no small part because of the controversy surrounding the team's future.

It smells of the kind of rhetoric Benson spouted about winning the Super Bowl when season ticket sales plummetted this past summer after he halted negotiations with Louisiana.

In any event, on to the ad itself.

In bold, all-capital letters, Benson proclaims, "TOM BENSON WANTS TO RETURN TO NEW ORLEANS."

He also notes, "NO DECISION HAS BEEN MADE ABOUT THE FUTURE OF THE TEAM...because no decision has been made about the future of New Orleans."

Further down, he says, "It must be made very clear that the future of our team in New Orleans will be determined by factors that are yet unresolved, such as economics and facilities..." In other words, money and a new stadium.

Benson then takes shots at New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin, who had criticized Benson with such comments as, "We want our Saints back...we don't want the owner." Benson responds: "If the Saints and Tom Benson were as important to the city as the Mayor of our city has claimed in the recent past, why such harsh comments..."

Tommy Boy then targets his frustration with media criticism, saying, "A direct result of this scrutiny has been the many negative editorals and columns written or said about me. These are from some media people who have never run a company and have no clear understanding of how to run a successful business."

Well, let's take a look at this, shall we?

Why did Benson receive so much criticism? The answer is two-fold:
a. He has "no clear understanding" of how to run a successful public relations campaign. (He also has "no clear understanding" of how to run a successful NFL franchise; if he did, the Saints would have more than one playoff win in his nearly 20 years as owner. And yes, to a certain extent, that matters. He has hammered his team's fans for lack of support, when they have given his team unbelievable support, especially when compared to the results on the field.)

b. He has "no clear understanding" of how his own actions completely contradict what comes out of his mouth, or out of the mouths of people close to him. For example, if he really wants to stay in New Orleans, why did he seek to end the lease on his team's training facility in Metairie? The extent of damage to the facility is disputed; what's the real reason? And why is the San Antonio mayor saying he's been talking to Benson about relocating the team there for a year now? Heck, why did his own attorney (Stanley Rosenberg, from San Antonio) let it be known that he was eying San Antonio and Albuquerque as relocation options earlier this year?

And why did Benson fire Arnold Fielkow? Was it, as the San Antonio Express-News reported, because Fielkow was too committed to returning the Saints to Louisiana?

Or why he was quoted as saying "he didn't say" he'd never sell the Saints?

I hate to say it, but I don't buy Benson's ad. I just don't.

I want to believe every word in it. His actions won't let me.

More questions: If Benson really wanted to put this information out there, wouldn't it have come out a month ago at the latest?

If Benson really wanted his Saints to remain in "his hometown," wouldn't he have actively opposed allowing things to reach such a high friction point, as they have?

And, what really stands out in my mind, is this: If Benson really does want his Saints to stay in New Orleans, why allow the San Antonio Chamber of Commerce to put up a "SAINTS - Keep the Faith" banner on its downtown building, with "SA" in white and the rest in gold, clearly indicated "San Antonio"?

Why allow "Texas sized tailgating" signs at the Alamodome with the Saints' fleur de lis serving as the "T" in Texas?

(I took photos of both on my recent trip to S.A.)

Why tell San Antonio that it is "of utmost importance" to sell out the Alamodome for Saints games there?

Why allow Saints season-ticket holders to get the shaft?

It, like Benson's deafening silence the last two weeks until now, sends the wrong message to devoted Saints fans trying to grasp for straws.

Now, the first time Benson comes forth with such a strongly worded message, it's just days before a game where ticket sales have slumped?

To me, it sends the message that Benson is just trying to increase the ticket sales he'll receive before departing southeast Louisiana for good.

It's why it seems to me he's using southeast Louisiana Saints fans for one last run at the gold to keep him high in the black.

It's why, in my opinion, he refused to renegotiate his deal with the state of Louisiana last summer. He knew he would force the state to come up with $15 million in annual bounty, all the while leaving his exit clause intact after the 2005 season.

It's why, in my opinion, he dodged commenting on the team's future after 2005 and instead asserted that the Saints would make a Super Bowl run, so that fans would run out and buy season tickets.

It's all about economics.

Until his actions match his words, a one-page newspaper advertisement won't be enough to change my mind.

NFL owners meeting called off; L.A. more considerate than S.A.; NFL sends Coliseum draft lease; USC's Carroll rumored to help bring Saints to L.A.

An NFL owners meeting slated to occur this week in Kansas City has been cancelled due to the death of influential New York Giants owner Wellington Mara.

That adds an interesting wrench to things, since there were going to be talks about the status and future of the Saints franchise. But it would be absolutely improper to push forward with such a meeting in the wake of Mara's passing.

In any event, officials from the city of Los Angeles were scheduled to be present at the meeting, to update league owners on the progress of the city for purposes of serving as host for an NFL team.

Those officials indicated in the story that the NFL is considering moving the Saints to L.A., but the city is not openly soliciting the team due to the sensitivity of the Katrina aftermath.

In fact, Los Angeles officials are actively trying to downplay any intentions of landing the Saints.

Pat Lynch, general manager of the L.A. Coliseum, is quoted in the Los Angeles Times as saying, "We know people in New Orleans have been reading about the 'threat' of Los Angeles for a long time. We don't think there's a time or a place for us to ever bring up this subject." And the president of the Coliseum Commission, Bill Chadwick, told the Times, "It clearly would be bad form for the commission to reach out to New Orleans — or to anyone in distress."

Imagine that - a city being considerate of another in need. Satantonio, you listening?

Perhaps more notable, the Times reported in the same article that the NFL has sent the Coliseum a draft lease.

And, a $10.7 million traffic project to limit congestion around the Coliseum, is set to be completed by July.

And, the Times confirmed that three members of the NFL committee watching Tom Benson "also serve on another NFL committee assessing prospects in Los Angeles, a smaller group that includes only five owners and Commissioner Paul Tagliabue."


In the meantime, reports that rumors are swirling about USC head coach Pete Carroll taking over the Saints next year in San Antonio, in order to help sell the team to Los Angeles fans in a subsequent move there in 2007.

On the Louisiana front, governor Kathleen Blanco is arranging to meet with Tom Benson and NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue this weekend to promote her state and help broker a deal to keep the Saints in New Orleans.

We'll see how that goes.

From the op-ed pages, columnists continue to blast Benson. This column, from, claims Benson is the world's meanest man. Check out this rant:
"Part of the team’s lease with New Orleans requires Benson to pay an $81 million fine if he moves the team before the contract expires. But, thanks to Katrina (hooray for Katrina!), his lawyers are expected to argue the stadium is unusable and therefore keeps them from having to fork over the dough. You can almost picture Benson standing next to Satan during the storm, waving his stupid umbrella and laughing maniacally."
The rest is a good read as well.

In other news, Hornets owner George Shinn is acting as the anti-Benson. Shinn was praised by New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin at last nights Hornets-Heat game in Baton Rouge, as Shinn has vowed to return the team to the Crescent City. Nagin said, "[T]he fans and the citizens really appreciated him doing that. And in addition to that, he came out tonight and said he's donating a million dollars to building homes for the citizens of New Orleans. That's the kind of heart that Mr. Shinn has."

Taking notes, Tommy Boy?

And, on a final note, a prominent USA Today sports columnist is calling on Tagliabue to swoop in and save the day for New Orleans. Ian O'Conner penned this outstanding piece, "Tagliabue must keep Saints in New Orleans," recently. O'Conner believes that Tagliabue's legacy rests with the final destination of the Saints. It's a definite must-read.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Benson, 'Satantonio' catch more grief

For Saints fans, the ripple effect of the last week and a half is just starting.

According to this AP article, this describes some of the New Orleans reaction:
"A taped-up refrigerator with rotting contents was left on a sidewalk. On it was a message scribbled in spray paint: 'Do not open. Benson inside.' Down the block, another abandoned refrigerator courtesy of Hurricane Katrina carried this comment: 'Saints lie to their fans.'"
Not to be overlooked, creative LSU students have dubbed San Antonio "Satantonio" in flyers making their way around campus.

Those same flyers have a sketch of Benson with devilish horns.

It goes without saying that Tommy Boy has done himself no favors under the spotlight. The same article above notes that "Benson said in a written statement last Friday he has not decided on the Saints' future home. When reporters at his suburban home asked him what he had to say to the team's New Orleans fan base, he told the visitors to get off his property."

Which pretty much says it all.

(I believe it was Benson himself who, after Hurricane Katrina, asserted that Saints wins meant more than money to help lift broken New Orleanians' spirits. As for silently relocating the team...)

Things like these are probably why the NFL formed a committee to keep an eye on Tom Benson.

Stating the obvious, one fan is quoted in the above story as saying, "He doesn't have the courage enough to face the fans themselves and tell them what's going on."

"What's going on" makes these times very tough to be a Saints fan. Shreveport Times columnist Scott Ferrell briefly summarizes the events of the last several days, and the impact on Saints fans, here. The agony of Saints fans can be captured in one sentence from Ferrell's column: "They've given their hearts to a professional football team -- unfortunately it is one with a lousy owner."

(At least he got part of it right. If Benson has been a lousy owner, Bob Kraft of New England has been halfway decent. And Bob Irsay is just below average.)

One final note: Sports Illustrated's Roy S. Johnson says that Saints fans should have a chance to say good-bye to their team in New Orleans next season.

Unless "Satantonio" somehow renames itself...

Report: Saints done in New Orleans, will end up in L.A.; NFL committee formed to watch Benson

Having closely watched the Saints' situation and seeing the likelihood of the team's relocation to Los Angeles prior to Katrina, the news that emerged this weekend wasn't all that surprising.

ESPN's Chris Mortensen reported yesterday that, according to NFL sources, the Saints will remain in San Antonio through 2006, and then will relocate permanently to L.A.

New Orleans could be considered a host for a future Super Bowl, and perhaps could be a candidate for an expansion franchise in the next 10-15 years.

And, according to prominent sports consultants, Ray Nagin's idea of a "Cleveland plan" - the option of keeping a team's name, logo, colors, and history after a franchise leaves, a la the reborn Cleveland Browns of the late 1990's - is not a likely possibility.

In other words, if Mort is correct, the Saints are done in New Orleans.

San Antonio shouldn't get too comfortable with the Saints either. In spite of that city's optimism of keeping the team as its own, the NFL has taken great strides in achieving its goal of having a franchise in Los Angeles.

That has been documented on this site numerous times, including here, here, here, here, here, and in my previous post below.

Also, an NFL committee has been formed to keep close tabs on Tom Benson. The league effectively is reining Benson in, and is taking control of an otherwise downward-spiraling situation. Presumably, that has been done for two reasons.

One, Tommy Boy has outdone himself in mangling the public relations, and the league is none too pleased.

Two, the NFL doesn't want a team in San Antonio, plain and simple. It wants a team in Los Angeles.

As for L.A. or San Antonio, the distinction between the two has been noted on this site.

Los Angeles Daily News columnist Billy Witz agrees that San Antonio won't be a long-term Saints host. Witz, in this column, makes several great points about the Saints and the league's perspective:

- "Everybody's favorite candidate (for NFL relocation to L.A.) seemed to be the New Orleans Saints - and that was before Katrina hit. The only thing the hurricane has done has made it more likely."

- "Much of the where-will-the-Saints-end-up parlor game has focusedon San Antonio, but let's be real. The NFL has learned its mistake in Jacksonville, where never mind the publicly-funded stadium and last season's Super Bowl, they're covering seats this season because they can't fill them."

- "San Antonio is the 37th-largest television market in the UnitedStates - 15 spots better than Jacksonville, but sandwiched between Salt Lake City and Grand Rapids-Kalamazoo-Battle Creek."

- "Tagliabue, who has all but said he doesn't want a team in San Antonio, isn't the only one. You can bet the Cowboys and Texans don't and neither do the NBA's Spurs, who have had a tough go despite winning three titles in seven years."

Same goes for New York Daily News sports columist Gary Myers, who wrote recently: "The next stop for the league is getting a team back in Los Angeles, not putting one in small market San Antonio, which is shamelessly trying to steal away the Saints when the New Orleans community is defenseless."

There's that p.r. thing again.

Both San Antonio and Benson have been downright repugnant throughout the last week and a half. Both have been rightfully skewered in numerous columns across the country. The most recent, "Owner Benson out to sell Saints' soul," comes from the Mobile Register.

In a way, they deserve each other.

At least for one year.

So what will the end result be?

My prediction is this: The NFL, which doesn't want a franchise permanently in San Antonio when none exists in Los Angeles, will tire quickly of Benson's p.r. black eyes. Having stated that it wants a team in L.A., and that it would rather local ownership in L.A., the league will force Benson to sell the team, and it will relocate to the City of Angels permanently under a new name, logo, and colors, either in 2006 or 2007.

No sense in being the only professional sports league without a franchise in the nation's second-largest media market.

It's fitting (and somewhat prophetic), as I've pointed out before, that in the Saints' first game, New Orleans lost to Los Angeles.

In the meantime, the signs at Sunday's Saints-Dolphins game in Baton Rouge should make for interesting reads.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Benson speaks, but says nothing; Benson-slamming continues; NFL to protect New Orleans?; L.A. continues NFL quest

Tom Benson has finally provided some comments on the Saints-San Antonio situation. However, much as the case has been in the past, his words run completely opposite to his actions. Here's the release:
"There have been numerous media reports this week regarding the future of the New Orleans Saints franchise.

"No one who has been quoted in these recent stories about the Saints' future was authorized to speak on my behalf.

"I would like to make it clear that no decisions have been made regarding our future plans and none will be made until after the 2005 season is concluded.

"There are many factors that will affect the future location of our team. However, that is also true of many other New Orleans-based companies that are faced with deciding their future homes. The next few months should provide all of us with a clearer picture which will help us make those decisions.

"Meanwhile, all of us in the organization are focused on making the playoffs and seeing that our remaining games in Baton Rouge and San Antonio are as successful as possible - both on and off the field."
Whatever, Tommy Boy. You, sir, have proven yet again that you are a hypocrite in the worst way. Your actions (see here and here) have shown yourself willing to sell out your team's supporters and a place you have claimed to call home, at the worst possible time, for nothing but a few extra bucks to line your already-golden pockets.

Perhaps you're doing this because you realize you've got tickets to push in Baton Rouge.

Maybe NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue has been in touch. I'm guessing he's about fed up with the public relations mangling you've done, and the black eye you're about to give the league.

But whatever you say now is irrelevant. You are several days late, sir, and your (and San Antonio's) classless actions this week render your tardy words utterly meaningless.


A host of sports columnists across the country are taking their shots at Benson over the San Antonio debacle.

Let’s start with long-time AP sports columnist Jim Litke, who skewers Tommy Boy over his disgraceful treatment of the state of Louisiana through the years. Litke points out, “now that Louisiana, struggling to recover from devastating back-to-back hurricanes, has nothing left to bribe him with, Benson apparently is turning his attention to San Antonio...If he ever made the move permanent, it would make Art Modell's sleazy end-run from Cleveland to Baltimore look almost honorable.”


Then there’s MSNBC columnist Ron Borges, who slams Benson in “Saints’ owner certainly isn’t a saint.” It’s worth a read, and asks an interesting question.

Who controls whether NFL franchises can move to other cities, the league or the team owner?

Cast aside the fact that relocation requires 24 of 32 owner votes, and the question is whether a situation even gets to that point.

Borges believes that if the NFL is the guide, the Saints aren’t going anywhere. To quote him, “Tagliabue made clear on several occasions that the league is not looking to move into additional secondary markets with Los Angeles still vacant. There is no way in which he'd allow Benson to take over that lucrative territory with the track record of incompetence he's put together in New Orleans.”

That coincides with Philadelphia Daily News columnist Paul Domowitch, who asserts that Tagliablue’s recent criticism of San Antonio was a warning shot to Benson to dissuade him from thinking about moving his Saints there.

Domowitch asserts that “Tagliabue is prepared to go to war on this. He is well aware of the major PR hit the NFL would take if it turned its back on a region that was brought to its knees by Katrina.”

Maybe they're onto something.'s John Clayton, a trusty NFL insider with deep information tentacles, penned the following in a recent column:
"Forget the Alamo: Tom Benson is handling the New Orleans situation all wrong. By firing key personnel who pushed to play games in Louisiana, he has completely alienated and scared officials in New Orleans into thinking that he will never bring the team back to the Superdome. Here's the problem: Benson has absolutely no support from commissioner Paul Tagliabue and the NFL about moving the team to San Antonio. The league considered the market too small and the stadium not good enough. Sure, it's an interim fix in San Antonio, but a full-time move to San Antonio will never be voted in by the NFL. The Saints owner better get some better advisors in the situation."
Note to Benson and San Antonio mayor Phil Hardberger: Put that in your pipe and smoke it.

Another one to check out is this column from, that knocks both San Antonio and Tom Benson for its actions.

From San Antonio, Hardberger continues to act as that city's chief vulture. According to, Hardberger said that he "will use every effort I can to get the Saints here permanently," and that "San Antonio is ready to have a major league team, and now we have the opportunity to do that."

Funny how he views the "opportunity."

Maybe, if another terrorist attack occurs in New York, Hardberger can use that opportunity to go after the Mets or Yankees.

But I digress.

On the Los Angeles front, mayor Antonio Villaraigosa told reporters yesterday that after meeting with a representative of Tagliabue, he is optimistic that a decision on a franchise in L.A. will be made “sometime later this year or early next year.”

Also, the Coliseum continues to prepare itself to host an NFL franchise in the near future.

With NFL owners meeting this weekend in Kansas City, especially after all that has taken place this week, it will be interesting to see what occurs on the New Orleans/San Antonio/Los Angeles fronts.

Benson set to void Superdome lease; State says Dome usable by Oct. 2006

In an obvious showdown of legal wrangling, the San Antonio Express-News reports today that Saints owner Tom Benson plans to void his team's lease with the Louisiana Superdome in November by calling the facility unusable.

On the other hand, the New Orleans Times-Picayune reports that state officials claim the Superdome could be open for football by next October, in time for a portion of the NFL's 2006 campaign.

It's a battle of the definition over what constitutes "usable." That's important in context of the governing contract's "force majeure" clause.

In any event, Benson clearly is moving forward with plans to relocate the team to San Antonio. That city's mayor, Phil Hardberger, was quoted in the above Express-News article as saying Thursday, "Tom has made it clear he really doesn't want to enter negotiations until the end of the season."

And what's the key for Benson's move? What is his motivation?

We all already know. The Express-News confirmed it today:
"Benson, sources say, believes he can make more money in San Antonio than in Baton Rouge, where the Saints will play four games this season."

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Benson tries to escape Metairie lease, not pushing BR tickets much; Tagliabue may intervene

News today centers around Tom Benson seeking to terminate a lease with the state of Louisiana for the Saints' training facility in Metairie.

According to today's Times-Picayune, the lease, which costs Benson a solid dollar ($1) a year (plus maintenance and operating costs), is set to expire in 2018. Benson's attorney claims the facility has been rendered unusable by Katrina's devastation.

State officials, on the other hand, say the facility sustained minimal damage.

The Times-Picayune also reports that Benson has gone out of his way to stay out of the way in promoting Saints games in Baton Rouge. According to the article, "sources within the team said there has been little interest from the Saints' braintrust in doing much to sell tickets for the Baton Rouge games."

Imagine that.

Lack of advertising, plus Benson's arrogant antics, plus San Antonio's slimy posturing, equals an alienated fan base.

A few print ads probably will serve about as effectively as a band-aid on a gaping bullet wound.

Yahoo! Sports columnist Charles Robinson wrote that NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue may attempt to intervene in the growing divide between Benson and Louisiana/New Orleans:
"NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue is keeping a close eye on what has become an escalating war of words over the franchise, including shots fired by the mayors of New Orleans and San Antonio. There is a belief Tagliabue will attempt to set up another meeting with Benson and state officials in hopes of salvaging the situation."
With all due respect, I think salvaging the situation would take a miracle at this point.

Perhaps he will hear the call from the New Orleans Times-Picayune editorial page, which fired its desparation rescue flare with "Help us out, Mr. Tagliabue."

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Nagin seeks ‘Cleveland plan’; NFL chimes in on S.A. talk; Shameless S.A. giddy; Benson blasted by columnists

According to this AP sports story by Brett Martel, New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin lashed out at Saints owner Tom Benson Wednesday, indicating that he’s ready to give up the present team in exchange for a future NFL expansion franchise with the same name, logo, and colors.

Nagin called it the “Cleveland plan.”

“We want our Saints; we may not want the owner back,” said Nagin, in response to this week’s developments involving Benson moving the team to San Antonio.

“I'm ready to go to the NFL and to (commissioner Paul) Tagliabue and say, 'Give us the Cleveland plan,’” in reference to the league granting an expansion team to Cleveland shortly after the Browns moved to Baltimore in 1996. “Whatever the Saints want to do, you let them leave, but they can't take our logo, they can't take our name, and you give us a promise to give us a franchise when this city's back.”

Nagin continued, saying, "For them to be openly talking to other cities about moving is disrespectful to the citizens of New Orleans, disrespectful to the Saints fans who have hung in with this franchise through 30-something years under very trying times.”

Amen to that.

NFL spokesman Greg Aiello entered the league’s first comments since the Saints-to-S.A. discussions heated up this week. Aiello noted in a New Orleans Times-Picayune article by Josh Peter that “[t]he mayor of San Antonio does not control the future of the Saints.” He also attempted to downplay San Antonio mayor Phil Hardberger’s comments, saying, “I would be careful about claling that news since it wasn’t said by Mr. Benson or anyone representing him.”

The same article pointed out that any franchise relocation requires support from at least 24 of the league’s 32 owners. Aiello also added, "There are many issues regarding the future of the Saints, and we are in the process of working with Mr. Benson and the club to begin addressing those issues.”

San Antonio, shameless as it has been, seems to be celebrating Benson’s firing of VP Arnold Fielkow as a tell-tale sign that the Saints are now theirs.

This article in today’s San Antonio Express-News pretty much sums it up, and even adds a bit of trashing of Fielkow to boot. The author, Tom Orsborn, even goes so far to say that Benson has “decided dollars and common sense had to take precedent over sentimentality.”

Poor fool, those San Antonio-an-ites...ah, heck with it, let’s just call them what they are - looters. If they do land Benson permanently, they too will become well-versed in his slimy, pathetic slavery to the almighty dollar. History has taught Louisiana that to Benson, money takes precedence over anything - even helping to save a city he allegedly gives a damn about.

Come to think of it, maybe San Antonio and Tom Benson deserve each other. Neither give a damn about anything but themselves.

Ole Tommy Boy must be avoiding the press at all costs these days. No need to re-hash what’s been said in the following must-read columns, but suffice it to say that I am in total agreement with all of them:

Cowardly move shows Benson’s truest colors, Jim Mashek, Biloxi Sun-Herald
Benson new beast of N.O., Bob Tompkins, Alexandria Town-Talk
From bad to worse: Benson’s apathy a backhand to N.O., John DeShazier, New Orleans Times-Picayune
From bad to worse: 'Faith' misplaced by Saints owner, Peter Finney, New Orleans Times-Picayune

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.

San Antonio slithers to steal Saints; S.A. mayor calls team attempts to play in La. 'disaster'; Benson fires VP Fielkow

Having evacuated to, among other places, San Antonio in the midst of Hurricane Rita, I witnessed personally the city of San Antonio's shameless promotion of trying to keep the Saints for itself, and from returning to New Orleans.

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 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, 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.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Sorry for the delay...

Hurricane Rita has interrupted updates to this page. They will resume shortly.