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

Friday, December 30, 2005

HUGE: Benson, NFL enter into agreement to return Saints to La. in '06; Benson has little legal ground to oppose; More links

(Note - this post is being modified often today, as new information becomes available.)

NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue and Saints owner Tom Benson have entered into an agreement for the Saints' return to Louisiana for the 2006 season.

Tagliabue has long been in the corner of Louisiana and New Orleans, which has been proven in large part today.

The agreement likely ends the potential for Saints games in San Antonio for the foreseeable future. The team will practice at its Metairie facility and play in Baton Rouge's Tiger Stadium and the Superdome in New Orleans.

It also ends the likelihood of a law suit by Benson against the NFL in coming months. (See below for more.)

A short news conference in New Orleans took place today at 2:15 p.m. with only Benson making remarks and taking no questions.

Among Benson's comments, he said that FEMA kept the Saints away from their Metairie practice facility at gunpoint, that he wants to be an integral part of the rebuilding of New Orleans, and that the Saints have a big economic impact on Louisiana. He also said that his staff gave him a plaque that says, "When the going gets tough, the tough get going."

(No word on whether the plaque actually said, "When the going gets tough in New Orleans, the tough get going to San Antonio.")

Earlier today, a memo from Benson to team members was circulated, reading as follows: "Today we are very pleased to advise our entire organization -- coaches, players and staff -- that we will be returning to Metairie in January. We are working in Louisiana to play as many games as possible in the Superdome, which may be ready in September."

Of course, Benson lied in the memo as well: "Recently I met with NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue and told him that I wanted the Saints to resume operations in our training and practice facility in Metairie."

Benson does not want that to happen. Based on his actions for the past four months, he wants the team to be in San Antonio.

But I digress...

Players and staff were told of the news by Tagliabue himself, who visited with them in San Antonio today.

Tagliabue informed the team that the Superdome should be football-ready by mid-September, according to this article in the Times-Picayune by Brian Allee-Walsh.

Doug Thornton, the regional vice president for SMG, the organization that runs the Superdome, indicated to Allee-Walsh that if the facility is ready by mid-September, it won't be finalized and there will still be some ongoing construction.

San Antonio mayor Phil Hardburglar told WOAI in response to today's news, "The enthusiasm and support displayed by the individual fans and our local corporate citizens over this season will pay dividends for our city for years to come. Whether it's professional baseball or the NFL, owners around the country are turning their attention to San Antonio. There is no longer any doubt that San Antonio is a city on the move."

Like Benson, Hardburglar also lied in his statement: "Our only goal was to prove to the NFL that San Antonio is a city that is ready for a team, and we have done that."

No, the intention stated several times - including as recently as Wednesday's comments on encouraging Benson to sue the NFL to get the Saints to San Antonio - was to get the Saints permanently from New Orleans.

Again, I digress...

(No word on whether Benson and Hardburglar will still be negotiating after this season. Okay, enough on that...)

New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin is quoted in this Boston Herald article to say, "After 30-plus years of supporting the Saints, it is somewhat encouraging that the Saints will play the next season in our city and state. We are happy that New Orleanians who have lost so much will have an NFL team next season to call their own. We look forward to the day when the Saints organization will fully commit to this community and be a vital part of our recovery for many years to come."

To allay Benson's financial concerns for returning to New Orleans, the NFL may help the team through subsidies generated by revenue from visiting teams' shares of gate receipts. Assistance also may be provided for attracting free agents.

However, it is crucial to note that the agreement only runs through the 2006 season, after which it is entirely conceivable that Benson will attempt to relocate the Saints permanently to San Antonio.

Here are links to a few stories on this huge bit of news:

ABC News/ESPN: Saints, NFL have deal to return to Louisiana in '06
San Antonio Express-News: Saints will leave San Antonio
KSAT: Saints to march back into New Orleans

And, for a laugher, be sure to read how the Saints' official web site spins today's news in a light heavily favorable to Benson.

A great piece by Jeff Duncan of the New Orleans Times-Picayune points out that Tom Benson would have little chance of winning a case against the NFL to keep the Saints in San Antonio permanently.

Quoted in the article is Gary Roberts, deputy dean of Tulane's law school and sports law expert, who said: "I don't think Tom Benson has a snowball's chance in hell of winning an antitrust suit against the NFL."

Roberts also notes that Tagliabue has situated things in his own favor, which is to keep the team in New Orleans.

And, Roberts says, Benson is not the most cunning of foes. Raiders owner Al Davis succeeded in suing the NFL in the 1980s to move from Oakland to Los Angeles. But, said Roberts, "If it gets to court, the league will win that standoff. Tom Benson is not gong to outmaneuver Paul Tagliabue. Al Davis 25 years ago is one thing. But Tom Benson is another."

Maybe that's why today's news is about the agreement between Tags and Tommy Boy.


An article by Mike Triplett in today's Times-Picayune points out that Saints players are looking for stability more than anything.

However, some also have expressed concerns that the only good thing about returning to New Orleans is the Metairie training facility - something they did not have access to in San Antonio.

Offensive lineman Kendyl Jacox said, "You're asking us to take our families back to a place that you don't even know if it's clean or not. I'm just not willing to do that. I mean, I don't want to leave New Orleans like this. But it's a difficult situation."

Other players apparently have sold their homes in New Orleans, and would have to find new living arrangements.

Another offensive lineman, Jamar Nesbit, said he has not sold his home on the North Shore, and that he is looking forward to returning.

And others seemed that they would just be happy to get clarification of the 2006 situation, one way or the other.

Two of the more concerned minds on the Saints' 2006 location are USC's Matt Leinart and Reggie Bush.

The Trojan superstars are likely to be the top two picks in the 2006 NFL draft, and if the Saints lose Sunday at Tampa Bay, it's highly likely they will have one of the top two picks.

This interesting piece, by Billy Witz of the Los Angeles Daily News, looks at the perspectives of both players, the sponsorship impact of being picked by the Saints, and the view of a potential agent for both, Leigh Steinberg.

Steinberg is of the belief that if the Saints pick either player, it could be great since the Saints might still end up in Los Angeles.

Said Steinberg, "I believe Los Angeles is definitely in line to get a franchise and the Saints are as likely a possibility as any. Again, not to be presumptuous, but the first pick of a Los Angeles franchise will feel like they died and went to heaven. For Matt or Reggie, it would be an absolutely spectacular opportunity, a marriage made in heaven."


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Thursday, December 29, 2005

Saints announcement set within the next week; Tagliabue to meet with team Friday; McCombs thinks Saints headed to S.A.

According to this USA Today article on the status of the Superdome, NFL spokesman Greg Aiello told the paper that an announcement will be made within the next week by the league on where the Saints will practice and play next season.

Aiello also told USA Today, "We would like to have the Saints play as many games as possible in New Orleans next year."

This coincides with a meeting scheduled Friday in San Antonio between NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue, owner Tom Benson, and Saints players and staff.

The Times-Picayune indicates that the Saints players are less than enthused with Tagliabue or the Friday meeting.

While the Times-Picayune acknowledges that it's not known whether Tagliabue will inform the team of where the NFL will have it practice and play in 2006, it's likely that he will make such an announcement to the team given Aiello's indication of such an announcement within the next week.

Said cornerback Fred Thomas: "The only thing he could tell us at this point is if we're going to be here or Louisiana."

Such an announcement has been left up to the NFL, pursuant to papers signed by Benson that pushed back the Saints' exit clause in the Louisiana lease to after the 2006 season.

This article by Bob Tompkins of the Alexandria Town-Talk discusses the Saints' legal situation, and indicates that the NFL has this right.

Beyond 2006, however, the situation gets murky.

And, for what it's worth, former Minnesota Vikings owner and San Antonio resident Red McCombs thinks NFL owners would approve of a move from New Orleans to San Antonio, according to the San Antonio Express-News.

McCombs said of Tagliabue's dedication to Louisiana following Katrina, "What would you expect Tagliabue to say after seeing that destruction in Louisiana?"

McCombs also told the Express-News:
"It's just common sense. All of these owners are going to be facing the same thing someday, one way or another, with their own franchises. They will be facing transfer, possible relocation, a number of these same issues Benson faces, and they will be reluctant to keep a guy from doing what he wants to do with his franchise.

"(San Antonio) is in a very good position. The situation is complicated, but the bottom line is Benson wants to come here. That's the key.

"I don't have any doubt now it will come to pass."
McCombs, who also once owned the NBA's San Antonio Spurs, had hopes of moving the Vikings to San Antonio, before selling the club earlier this year.

Benson and McCombs are long-time friends, according to this 1998 article from the Houston Chronicle. In it, Benson is quoted as saying, "I'm a Red McCombs supporter."

The two men have known each other since 1956, and both made their fortunes in car dealerships in the San Antonio area.

In that same article, McCombs said, "An NFL team in San Antonio would be a smash, but the Vikings are an institution in Minnesota."

As are the Saints in New Orleans.

Of course, McCombs has been pushing to get a team to San Antonio for 40 years now, according to a different Houston Chronicle article from 1998.

In it, McCombs commented on the possibility of moving the Vikings to San Antonio. There, the Vikings' lease with the Metrodome was slated to end in 2012, but there was an exit clause that could allow the team to relocate.

About that, McCombs said, "You don't break a lease just because you have the money."

No word on Benson's opinion on that.


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Wednesday, December 28, 2005

S.A. officials upset with Tagliabue; Columnist calls on Benson to sell; Water Cooler lauds S.A. attendance through easily accessible tickets

NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue is scheduled to make a trip to San Antonio this week to meet with Tom Benson about the future of the Saints.

City officials there, however, are offended that Tags doesn't want to meet with them, reports the San Antonio Express-News.

Of course, after San Antonio's politicians have slammed Tagliabue as, for example, being "off his rocker," should they be all that surprised?

It's also notable that the Express-News itself has blasted Tagliabue, saying in one column that he "couldn't spell Alamo if you spotted him the vowels."

Today's Express-News article notes that Tagliabue has stated he doesn't want the NFL moving to any small markets, especially with a vacant Los Angeles.

With that, ex-San Antonio mayor Nelson Wolff told the Express-News, "They are adamant that this is a small market, and the truth is we are a small market...Regardless of what anyone says, we are a small market."

So, is Wolff off his rocker too?

The Mobile Register's Neal McCready penned a column for today's edition that calls on Tom Benson to sell the Saints.

Bits from McCready's piece:
"But the majority of the blame falls at the feet of team owner Tom Benson. The Saints didn't play a home game all season, set up temporary shop in San Antonio and were cast aside by a league infuriated at Benson. It's been a mess, on and off the field, and it promises only to get worse before it gets any better."

"Benson didn't cause Katrina, of course, but the rest of this disaster of a franchise is of his making. Because of Benson's horrid public relations skills and his utter lack of empathy for the people of Louisiana, the Saints will have to be resold to a fan base that once loved them regardless of their warts."

"Until Sunday, all of those issues can be buried thanks to the presence of a football game on the schedule. On Monday, however, there can be no more denials. Changes will likely come quickly. Benson should make the process easier by putting his team on the market. And if he won't, Tagliabue should find out just how powerful he and his league are."
Nothing would make Saints fans happier.

The San Antonio Express-News "Water Cooler" column, which has frequently bashed Louisiana in regard to the Saints fiasco, had this to offer in its most recent edition:
"No respect, I tell ya... - The Saints-to-San Antonio bandwagon has gone stealth, but you have to commend those still cracking the whip. The near-capacity crowd for the Lions game Christmas Eve rates as the Miracle on Commerce Street. It's official: San Antonio, despite having less of an attachment and less incentive, outdrew Baton Rouge by a 3-2 margin for Saints games, and it doesn't matter that Lions tickets were practically distributed under the wiper blades of parked cars.

"So what's the city's reward? Next up: Another possible insult from Paul Tagliabue, who has plans to fly to S.A. this week and meet with owner Tom Benson and Saints players. He's not scheduled to meet with city officials in a city that bought 54 percent of all Saints home tickets this season, and in only three games."
Comments on, and links to, other offerings of the Water Cooler can be found here, here, and here.

How about acknowledging the fact that Benson destroyed his public relations in Louisiana, or that tickets were not so readily distributed in Louisiana to give the impression that is so proudly proclaimed in this article? In other words, it does matter that tickets were "practically distributed under the wiper blades of parked cars."

One city was praised by Benson; the other has been bashed by him. Where's the mention of that???


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Monday, December 26, 2005

Benson: 'You know how much I like San Antonio'; Saints mall kiosks?; L.A. Times supports Saints return to N.O.; S.A. task force?; More...

After the Saints' Christmas Eve loss to Detroit in San Antonio's Alamodome, Tom Benson told the San Antonio Express-News that he wants at least some of the 2006 Saints schedule to be played there.

Benson's quote: "Divide it up, you know how much I like San Antonio."

The same article notes that Benson and NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue will meet later this week in San Antonio to discuss the Saints' future.

Benson also seemed to concede that the NFL will dictate where the Saints play next year. However, he also stated that he will control where the team practices.

Benson said, "The commissioner sets the schedule, all I can say is where we practice. He sets the schedule, and the league, you know, so I don't have a lot of say so in that."

Then, the article goes on to report that when asked where Benson wants the Saints to practice in 2006, he told the paper, "It all depends on where we have to play, most probably we will know more soon. (After) a couple more meetings, something will happen."

The Express-News then points out the obvious: "Benson's actions since moving to San Antonio, where he has strong business and personal ties, indicate that he wants the team to remain in San Antonio to practice and play next season."

San Antonio mayor Phil Hardburglar also was reported in the article to say, "Tom and I are going to sit down after the first of the year (to negotiate). I am very hopeful that we are going to get a majority of the games next season, but there are things happening at the NFL that are really out of our control."

Another article in the San Antonio Express-News points out yet another glaring discrepancy between game marketing by the team between there and Baton Rouge.

An interview with a Saints fan revealed that tickets were being sold, at half their face value, at a mall kiosk by Saints officials. To quote the article, the fan "bought $70 tickets for $35 at a kiosk the team had set up at North Star Mall."

No such efforts were made to set up similar facilities in Baton Rouge, and no such discounts were extended either.

The article also verifies that the $70 tickets in the lower bowl of the Alamodome were being discounted in half to individual buyers, and not to groups.

An editorial in yesterday's Los Angeles Times, entitled "Saints can be morale builder," calls for someone to help make the 2006 home opener in New Orleans happen sooner than Nov. 1, and states that "to visit New Orleans during football season is to know that the Saints mean a lot to the sports public in that hurricane-devastated town."

The editorial further notes that "Franklin D. Roosevelt, as America's 1940s president, asked big league baseball and football to continue their schedules during World War II because sports boost morale. And as the world knows, New Orleans' morale could do with a bit of boosting."

There's a lengthy piece on from the San Antonio Business Journal entitled, "City leaders have faith Saints are coming back."

The report states that San Antonio may put together a task force committee to increase the courtship of the Saints from New Orleans.

A local business executive who has had a significant role in trying to get the Saints to move to San Antonio, Jim Greenwood of Valero Energy Corp., said, "After this season, we need to move appropriately to see what our options are for next season and beyond. It has been mentioned...that we need to formalize a group to codify the commitment from the business community to bring the NFL to San Antonio permanently."

And, the article states that the HollyHills Group bought 10,000 tickets to Saturday's Saints-Lions game in San Antonio with a mindset that it would not be the last game played in the Alamodome.

More importantly, the article notes that the HollyHills Group spokesman quoted in the article, T.J. Connolly, also worked for Benson for several years after he bought the Saints in the late 1980's. (It's another tie between HollyHills and Benson. The company has expressed an interest in constructing a sports megacomplex in San Antonio with an NFL stadium for the Saints, and then made the aforementioned lump ticket purchase.)

With that, Connolly told the San Antonio Business Journal that HollyHills "didn't (purchase the tickets) under the impression that it's the last game we're going to see played in the Alamodome...HollyHills would not have invested in the Saints' last hurrah."

A scan of the most recent national news coverage of the Saints seems to indicate a turning tide against returning the team to New Orleans.

Take this piece from the Hattiesburg American by Stan Caldwell, entitled "Saints' stint in New Orleans full of lowlights."

In it, Caldwell writes, "I am convinced that the Saints will never return to New Orleans."

His reasoning is as follows:
"Four months after Katrina, most of the corporations that filled up the box suites have set up shop elsewhere, and aren't in any big hurry to come back to New Orleans.

"And the rank and file - the ones who scrape up for season tickets or just manage to come up with the wherewithal to attend one or two games a season - aren't any more eager to return than the corporations.

"It is estimated that about half of the one million people who lived in the New Orleans metropolitan area before Aug. 29 have left the city, and a lot of them aren't ever coming back."
Caldwell also voices a sort of support for Tom Benson the Business Owner, based in part on attendance numbers in Baton Rouge versus San Antonio:
"Saints' owner Tom Benson has been portrayed as an ogre for his stated desire to move the team to San Antonio, and his curmudgeonly attitude certainly hasn't won him any friends.

"But Benson is right when he argues that he's a businessman with a business to run.

"And the numbers speak for themselves.

"The Saints drew enthusiastic crowds over well over 60,000 in the three games they played at the Alamodome this season. They drew apathetic crowds in the 35,000 range in the four games they played at Baton Rouge."
Caldwell fails to point out Benson's (and his organization's) different treatment of Baton Rouge and San Antonio, with an obvious effort at making one look better than the other in terms of supporting the Saints.

For at least one person, Tommy Boy seems to have succeeded.

Then there's Ray Buck of Knight-Ridder, who wrote, "San Antonio hopes to land Saints; Strong attendance a sign city is NFL-worthy."

Buck also points out the attendance figure differences, writing that San Antonio, not Baton Rouge, is expected to play host to the Saints until the team returns to New Orleans for the latter part of the '06 campaign:
"San Antonio is expected to host the Saints home games next season until the Superdome is ready for play. And San Antonio has shown that it can be a great "second home" for an NFL franchise. The Saints played three games in the Alamodome, averaging 62,666 in paid attendance. By comparison, four home games played at LSU's Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge, La., averaged 40,310."
Buck further reports that Benson is unlikely to garner the required three-fourths support of NFL owners to permanently relocate the Saints to San Antonio.

Then there's Forbes' Monte Burke, who identified the following on his "watch list":
"New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson. Faced with a tough choice: stay in New Orleans or abandon the city and go to Los Angeles. Will pay a price with either call."
And Burke's "bold prediction" of the future?

"The New Orleans Saints will move to Los Angeles."

Tom Benson was smacked in this Austin American-Stateman "Hootie Awards" article:
"Probably not the best time to break out the 'disaster' analogy - Saints owner Tom Benson was booed and harassed by fans in Baton Rouge, La., because of the perception that Benson would use the hurricane as an excuse to move his team to a more profitable city. Angered by his treatment, Benson declared that he would not attend any more of this teams' games in Baton Rouge, describing his trip there as a 'total disaster.'"
NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue was drilled in the San Antonio Express-News' "Winnners and Losers of 2005":
"NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue, rejecting San Antonio as a candidate to become the new home of the New Orleans Saints, said the league had no plans to move into small markets, thus angering a "small" town with big dreams."
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Friday, December 23, 2005

Thirty percent of tickets to Saints-Lions game bought by S.A. businesses; Telling S.A. quote; Express-News: Saints 'happy to be home' in S.A.

It seems that the people of San Antonio have purchased around 42,000 tickets to Saturday's Christmas Eve game between the Saints and Detroit Lions in the Alamodome.

The rest of the tickets, 18,000 or so, have been bought by San Antonio area businesses with an interest of making a good impression on NFL officials (and, obviously, Saints owner Tom Benson), according to this article in the San Antonio Express-News.

The article notes that Benson was impressed with San Antonio's business and fan support and that he is "very fond of San Antonio," and also reaffirms that Benson has informed city leaders there that he wants to move the Saints there permanently.

Bottom line - That's 42,000 tickets sold in a 65,000-seat stadium, after what previous articles have indicated were increased marketing, and after some hefty ticket discounts.

In other words, calling tomorrow's game a near sell-out is a misnomer.

It's a game with just over 42,000 tickets sold, and around 18,000 ticket giveaways.

That's nearly one-third of the Alamodome seats just being given away.

But we know how it'll be spun by Tommy Boy and his cohorts...

Heck, it's already been spun by San Antonio mayor Phil Hardburglar, and by San Antonio media, and by the Saints' web site.

Perhaps all of them need an asterick for Christmas.

As for the whole story, here's an outstanding review in today's Times-Picayune by Mike Triplett.

Triplett notes that thousands of seats have been sold at a hefty discount rate for today's game.

He also adds that the Saints' "offices" in San Antonio are an abandoned water works building that has been slated to be bulldozed in 2006 and turned into a parking lot, and if the team somehow does stay there next year, that will be where they are based.

If that happens and the building doesn't work out, at least San Antonio has shown it will allow the Saints to practice on the parking lot.

In Triplett's article, here's a quote from Bexar (TX) County judge Nelson Wolff, a San Antonio bigwig and ex-mayor who has been a proponent of the Saints moving there:
"I'm sure they'll have a good crowd (today); a lot of tickets have been given away."
Enough said.

Today's San Antonio Express-News does it yet again.

On the main sports page of their website today, the headline glaringly blares, "Saints happy to be home."

For today's game in San Antonio between them and the Detroit Lions.



Aren't they still the "New Orleans" Saints?

The linked story doesn't do much better. The headline there is "Football: Saints return to San Antonio where they are glad to hang their hats."

And the story itself makes the same argument eschewed above: that ticket "sales" there are superior to ticket sales in Louisiana.

It also takes a tongue-in-cheek pot shot at Louisiana, saying about today's game: "For now, the players are just happy to be back playing in front of what is expected to be a friendly packed house."



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Louisiana formally asks Saints to return to N.O.

Here's a link to an AP article stating that Louisiana officials have formally requested the Saints to return to New Orleans, and to begin using the team training facility in Metairie by January.

The state also enclosed copies of letters from FEMA and the National Guard, stating that neither have any use for the facility.

According to this link from WWL-TV, NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue and NFLPA executive director Gene Upshaw also received copies of the letter.

Note that attorney Phil Wittman, who represents the Saints, confirmed that Tom Benson had received the notice in a letter from Louisiana officials, but that he wouldn't be making his mind up until after the season.

Of course, we all know that Benson has made his mind up, and that as things stand now, he and the NFL will be in court over it.

Happy Holidays!


Full text of the letter:


The State of Louisiana (State), acting through the Louisiana Stadium & Exposition District (LSED), has secured written confirmation from the military and from FEMA that there is no current or future need for or intention of the authorities to use the Training Facility for any purpose.

Further, the State and the LSED are taking all necessary steps to repair the minor storm-related damage, which repair can be accomplished concurrent with the use of the Training Facility by the team.

As you know, the NFL representatives (including Commissioner Paul Tagliabue and Players’ Association leader, Gene Upshaw) toured the facility on December 5th. Both gentlemen deemed the facility to be in “excellent condition” and publicly confirmed its “readiness” for the team to return in early 2006.

Accordingly, the State and LSED respectfully request that the team return to the Training Facility in January 2006, and conduct its operations (including preparation for the 2006 season, the 2006 draft and training camps) in Louisiana, consistent with the Amended and Restated New Orleans Saints Professional Training Facility Lease (the “Training Facility Lease”). The State and the LSED consider the Training Facility Lease to be valid and in effect.

If you have any questions, please call. We are available for a conference call among all interested persons and entities at any time.

Larry Roedel, Counsel

For the Louisiana Stadium and Exposition District


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Thursday, December 22, 2005

Benson, S.A. peddle 'sell-out' spin; Alamodome director: 'Gulf Coast region...doesn't exist anymore'; Benson slammed again; A pro-Benson column?

Tom Benson and San Antonio's media outlets continue to paint the picture that it has better fan support than does New Orleans, and thus the city should keep the Saints.

Today, the New Orleans Saints website, the San Antonio Express-News, and the San Antonio Business Journal all proudly puff their chests and report that Saturday's Christmas Eve tilt between the Saints and Detroit Lions is nearly sold out.

Kudos to them. Except that it's a blatant mischaracterization of the facts.

Fact One is that San Antonio citizens were granted special sales packages not extended to fans in Louisiana.

Fact Two is that, according to this San Antonio Express-News article, marketing has been ramped up in San Antonio to achieve this goal of getting a hefty attendance Saturday. The same article also misrepresents Fact One, saying that ticket discounts were for groups, when that simply isn't the case.

Where was the increased marketing in Baton Rouge? Oh yeah - it was Benson shoving a TV camera and telling Baton Rouge to go to hell.

Fact Three is that a company with direct negotiating ties to Benson snatched up 10,000 tickets, or nearly one-sixth of the Alamodome's total capacity, to give away to the military. Nothing of the like took place in Baton Rouge, presumably because of Fact Two.

Fact Four is that San Antonio is not spending money repairing houses covered with blue roofs. In fact, San Antonio's media would have you think the Saints were just escapading through central Texas just to get away from Louisiana, and that New Orleans and San Antonio are evenly matched. Katrina, Rita, and Facts One through Three negate that notion.

And Fact Five is that you will not see Facts One through Four in any San Antonio publication. Sure, the HollyHills 10,000 ticket bailout makes a brief splash, but there is no talk about the company's proposed development of a sports megacenter in San Antonio involving the Saints.

So we'll watch Saturday, and hear uninformed television commentators (including Boomer Esiason) talk about how much better support is in San Antonio than in Baton Rouge, without reference to the Facts.

And we'll hear people like Christian Archer, San Antonio mayor Phil Hardburglar's chief assistant, say things like, "We've made the case. We've done everything we can do to prove we're an NFL city."

(Except for that charitable thing the NFL so prides itself on. Is stealing from a helpless place NFL-worthy?)

The Express-News also notes that "San Antonio officials, most notably Hardberger, have toned down their rhetoric after some public comments about moving the Saints resulted in their being portrayed as looters."

Perhaps Archer didn't get the message.

As for the rest of them - It's not just the comments, guys, it's the actions as well.

At least the NFL and Paul Tagliabue are aware of the Facts, and are willing to give New Orleans and Louisiana a genuine fair shot at supporting the Saints in 2006.

Even if Benson isn't.

In an interview on San Antonio's KENS-5, Alamodome director George Michael Abington said, "The entire gulf coast region...the doesn't really exist anymore...and that's their (Saints) ticket base."

It is a cold and shallow assessment of New Orleans and the Mississippi Gulf Coast, and another of many slaps in the face to residents living in and returning to those areas.

It also fails to take into account the Saints fans who do exist in other parts of Louisiana, Mississippi, and elsewhere.

It seems that this is the real perception of San Antonio officials. Or it's at least a rationalization for their putrid, vulture-like treatment of New Orleans.

In any event, an apology should be in order.

In USA Today's Inside Scoop yesterday, the following was written about the Saints: "A haggard Jim Haslett is expected to force his way out of an ugly situation to try to pursue another position. The Saints coach was never granted the contract extension that owner Tom Benson promised in the spring. Haslett's expected departure after doing a thankless job is just the latest example of Benson's mismanagement of a team that has already lost several front office people. The likelihood now is that the Saints will be forced to settle for a younger, less-experienced head coach because of the team's unsettled future and an owner who has alienated the team's fan base. Aaron Brooks also is expected to be out in New Orleans after his failure to develop into a more consistent quarterback and leader." Great work, Tommy Boy.

Imagine where you might find a column supporting Tom Benson...

If you guessed San Antonio, give yourself a sarcastic pat on the back.

Here's the link to the San Antonio Express-News column by Buck Harvey.

Okay, so it's not necessarily pro-Benson. It does offers some light criticism. But on the whole, it puts him in a positive light.

Only in San Antonio...


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Tuesday, December 20, 2005

NFL deja vu? Stunning parallels between Benson, ex-Seahawks owner Behring

With all the hoopla surrounding this Saints circus these past few weeks, it may be telling to review the NFL’s most similar encounter with this relocation scenario.

While an enormous disclaimer must be made for the fact that no city before now has been seriously impacted by a natural disaster like Katrina, it is important to keep in mind that the NFL is on record as wanting to give New Orleans a reasonable chance to prove it can sustain support for the Saints during rebuilding.

With that being said, the closest resemblance to Tom Benson’s current San Antonio courtship occurred in 1996, when then-Seattle Seahawks owner Ken Behring badly wanted to move his club to a recently-vacated Los Angeles.

A quick initial comparison of Benson and Behring reveals that both made their pre-NFL fortunes selling cars (Benson in Texas and Louisiana, and Behring in Wisconsin). And both had businesses in their desired relocation locales, with Behring being a California real estate developer and Benson having car dealerships in San Antonio.

But the parallels only begin there. (Normal text for Behring, italics for Benson)

Behring, you see, was desparate to get out of his Kingdome lease with Seattle’s King County. At the time, the lease, ironically enough, was set to run through 2005. Behring wanted no part of the Kingdome because he deemed it as an inadequate facility, and he and his attorney concocted an argument that the lease was invalid because the Kingdome was not built to withstand earthquakes.

This argument was presented at an NFL owners meeting, where, according to an article by Paul Attner in the March 25, 1996 edition of Sporting News, owners had to hide their laughter.

This, of course, is not unlike reports that Saints’ employees had to cover their mouths when Benson told them not to return to New Orleans because it is unlivable and that FEMA and the National Guard still occupied the damaged Saints training facility in Metairie.

And, with the Superdome scheduled to have renovations and upgrades completed by Nov. 1, 2006, the stadium clearly would be adequate to support NFL football.

But Behring’s ludicrous contention was all the more humorous, given that his solution to his alleged earthquake fears in Seattle was to move his franchise to Los Angeles of all places.

As things continued to fall apart, Behring, who had promised fans otherwise, issued a press release on Feb. 2, 1996, stating that the Seahawks were leaving Seattle permanently. He then hastily loaded up the team’s workout equipment into moving trucks, and shipped it to Anaheim.

The Seahawks’ equipment was shipped from an abandoned but perfectly fine training facility in Seattle, to an old elementary school in Anaheim. Behring also shut down his Seattle offices in early February 1996, and employees with nowhere else to go had to work from home. Then-head coach Dennis Erickson had no office either.

The obvious present-day Benson comparison to that situation is the Saints’ abandoned training facility and team offices in Metairie. The players are training and practicing in a parking lot under tents, and dress out in a high school baseball field locker room. The coaches have no offices, except for an abandoned water works building in San Antonio.

Like Benson now, Behring had no firm plans in place for such a move.

In the above-cited Sporting News article, Attner wrote: “But, as long as Behring is owner, plans are to conduct the draft from Anaheim and then hold training camp in southern California. Where? Don't ask for specifics, please, because there are none. So much of this is being done on a fly-by-night basis, which is a heck of a way to run a franchise valued conservatively at $180 million.”

So, no specifics existed for Behring’s hasty move to L.A., and none exist for Benson either. See the above comments about the Sants’ present conditions. Benson also is running his Saints on a fly-by-night basis, which, using Attner’s words, is a heck of a way to run a franchise valued conservatively at $700 million.

At least Behring promised to leave the Seahawks’ name, logo, and colors with Seattle for use of a future franchise.

For his actions, Behring was sued by the Washington Attorney General for a litany of reasons including antitrust and unfair trade practices. The suit, which can be read here, is a virtual copy-and-paste of arguments that could be made by Louisiana against Benson. Some language from the suit appears below:
“In contrast to the discipline, teamwork and spirit of fair competition displayed on the football field, the Seattle Seahawks' current owners, through a variety of unfair methods of competition and monopolistic practices, are attempting to take unfair advantage of the state and its citizens by moving the Seattle Seahawks to southern California. They have also engaged in deceptive tactics in the sale of tickets and have deprived the state of the benefits of the contract executed between SSI and King County.”

“Fans make decisions to purchase tickets not just because games are played in Seattle on Sundays, but because the team is the 'home team' for the Pacific Northwest. The community closely identifies with the Seattle Seahawks and the Seattle Seahawks have established themselves as partners with the community. This is exemplified by a letter from David Behring to the season ticketholders in 1995 which claims:

"'[T]hank you for your continued support of the Seattle Seahawks. We are highly optimistic about our future. The Pacific Northwest is a fantastic community that we are proud to be a part of, we think your spirit and dedication will be the envy of the entire league. As always, we are committed to winning both on the field and in the community. Public service is a high priority and we will do our best to brighten the lives of those around us.'"
Quotes on the situation at the time were made by King County executive Gary Locke, who told AP sportswriter Jim Cour in this Feb. 3, 1996 article, "One has to seriously question whether Mr. Behring was ever serious about staying in Seattle.”

Senator Slade Gorton, R-Wash., also told Cour, "It's totally outrageous. Two weeks ago Behring was in my office assuring me the team was staying in Seattle. It is as plain as all get out that he (Behring) planned this all along, and it has nothing to do with the Kingdome."

These same types of comments should be expected from Louisiana politicians such as Kathleen Blanco, David Vitter, and Ken Hollis, all of whom have been reassured by Benson that his intentions are to keep the Saints in Louisiana.

Shortly after the suit was filed, Behring countered with his own suit that alleged King County was in violation of the Kingdome lease for failing to correct the aforementioned earthquake deficiencies.

No doubt, such an action is brewing in Benson’s legal quarters.

In 1996, a judge, citing a specific performance clause, prevented Behring from moving the Seahawks. The lease still had 10 years remaining, and Behring was locked into the contract.

Behring, who did not apply for relocation, also drew the ire of the NFL, which neither approved nor supported such a move. As an aside, the league’s owners (Behring included) had entered into a signed agreement that they would jointly determine what to do about relocating a team to Los Angeles.

In the present Saints situation, Benson has entered into a signed agreement with Louisiana wherein he extends his lease cancellation date to 2007, and gives the NFL the express authority to determine where the Saints will play their 2006 schedule.

In fact, the NFL was so upset that commissioner Paul Tagliabue informed Behring that he would be fined $500,000 if the Seahawks continued to practice in Anaheim, for “conduct detrimental to the league.” Tagliabue’s threat came with a firm order to return the Seahawks to Seattle.

Tagliabue also said at the time, "It is incoherent to destroy what it took 75 years to build. We want to maintain continuity and tradition."

As for the Saints today, it would be outstanding to hear Tagliabue come out and publicly reprimand Benson with a comment like, “It is incoherent to destroy what it took 39 years to build. We want to maintain continuity and tradition in helping to rebuild New Orleans.”

And undoubtedly, Benson's activities have been nothing less than "conduct detrimental to the league." They've been detrimental to his own image and legacy as well. He should be fining himself.

Behring’s response to the litigation and to Tagliabue came in a press release, quoted in this March 22, 1996 AP article: “Rather than enduring the costs and distractions of litigating with the National Football League at this time, I have chosen to ask our players and conditioning coaches to return to our facility in Kirkland for the rest of the offseason condition program.”

While Behring tucked his tail between his legs and humbly returned to Seattle, the citizens and politicians there sought new prospective owners. They found one in Microsoft co-creator Paul Allen, who also owned the Portland Trailblazers at the time.

Citizens and politicians in Louisiana have sought out and found two groups of prospective buyers. One group is headed by Terry Bradshaw and James Davison, and the other is led by Dickie Blossman.

Behring had also vowed, according to the above-cited Attner article, that he would never sell the Seahawks. The reasoning behind Behring’s change of heart, wrote Attner: “But being treated the fool is not a pleasant experience. If your peers aren't looking at you seriously, what's the sense of staying in the club?”

Benson, meanwhile, has also said he will never sell the Saints. But the longer this ridiculous charade continues, the less respect his NFL counterparts will have of him. News that the ownership committee overseeing him and the New Orleans situation will vote unanimously to keep the team in New Orleans is evidence of that.

Amidst public disdain and lack of peer respect among NFL owners, Behring entered into an agreement with Allen to purchase the Seahawks in 1997, with the lynchpin being a new stadium proposal put to voters.

The proposal passed, the sale went through, the stadium was constructed with taxpayer funds and $100 million of Allen’s own money, and nine years later, the Seahawks are the top team in the NFC.

As for re-establishing trust and faith with Seahawks fans throughout the Northeast, Seahawks President Bob Whitsett told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer in a Dec. 16, 1999 article: "We didn't have to do a lot of market research and wonder if Seattle and the whole Northwest would support an NFL team. We knew they would if the team did things like they were supposed to do. They didn't burn all the bridges up there with the previous ownership, they blew all the bridges up. I think people wanted them to be rebuilt, but just because Paul bought the team didn't mean that people were automatically coming back.”

This would definitely be the case in southeast Louisiana and on the Gulf Coast, as Benson has “blown up all his bridges” there as well. But after investing so much emotional capital into the Saints, people in Louisiana do want the bridges to be rebuilt.

So, in a very basic conclusion, here is a short rundown of final comparisons between Behring and Benson:

Behring - wanted to move from Seattle to L.A. because of earthquake threat to Kingdome
Benson - wants to move from New Orleans to San Antonio because of “unlivable” conditions of New Orleans

Behring - had no facilities to move into for upcoming Seahawks campaign in L.A.
Benson - has no facilities to move into for upcoming Saints campaign in San Antonio

Behring - team trained in Anaheim until ordered back by NFL
Benson - wants team to train in San Antonio, NFL threatening to order them back to New Orleans

As always, we shall see what direction this roller coaster will take.


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Monday, December 19, 2005

Committee to vote for return to La., could hinder relocation; Haslett, players acknowledge possibly leaving La.; Benson labeled 'Grinch'; More links NFL columnist Jay Glazer is reporting that the NFL committee of owners formed to monitor Tom Benson will have a conference call Tuesday and vote unanimously to keep the Saints in Louisiana and have them return to their Metairie practice facility this offseason.

Glazer writes that the committee's official recommendation could come very soon.

Glazer also notes that the league will seek to back-load the 2006 Saints schedule to maximize appearances in the Superdome, which is slated to be ready for NFL football by Nov. 1, 2006.

Considering that there are eight owners on the committee, and that relocation in the NFL requires 24 of 32 owners to vote in favor of such a move, it is highly unlikely that Benson would receive the necessary support to permanently move the Saints to San Antonio in 2006.

The members of the committee (officially labeled the "New Orleans Saints Advisory Committee") are Denver's Pat Bowlen, Kansas City's Lamar Hunt, New England's Robert Kraft, Philadelphia's Jeff Lurie, Chicago's Mike McCaskey, Carolina's Jerry Richardson, Pittsburgh's Dan Rooney and Jacksonville's Wayne Weaver.

It's a list of some of the heaviest hitters in NFL ownership. Without their support, Benson's hopes of relocation are slim to none.

Even if Benson swayed half of them, he'd still be left fighting for 20 other votes from the remaining 24 franchises. Presumably voting against such relocation would also be Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and Houston Texans owner Bob McNair. It's an uphill climb, to say the least.

Benson, for his part, is "compiling a portfolio of reports presenting him in a negative light or personally attacking him aired on or written in New Orleans media" to submit to the other 31 NFL owners, according to the great Third Battle of New Orleans site, which cites WDSU-TV in New Orleans for the report.

Not that Tommy Boy has given any reason to be portrayed in a negative spotlight.

Also, I wonder if he'll be compiling a list of negative press from across the country as well. There's more than enough to go around. It ain't just New Orleans that sees him as The Worst Owner In Professional Sports History. Go do a news search and see for yourself.

But back to the column...If this is the case, such news puts serious doubt on thoughts that the NFL could be engaging in a good-cop, bad-cop scenario whereby the league and Benson conspire to move the team out of New Orleans, with Benson being the fall guy.

So, the ultimate result would be litigation.

Benson v. Tagliabue - coming to Court TV this spring!

Several Saints players and coach Jim Haslett commented on the possibility that Sunday's loss to Carolina at Baton Rouge's Tiger Stadium could be the team's last appearance in Louisiana.

Haslett, according to the above-linked article, told the team Saturday night to give it their all because it could be the last time the Saints play in Louisiana.

After the game, according to the Times-Picayune, Haslett said, "I'm saying it's a possibility. Our players understand that and they understood that going into the game, who knows what's going to happen? And I feel bad because we wanted to put on a better performance. It's a shame we had to go out this way."

Defensive tackle Brian Young told the Times-Picayune, "I'm not from New Orleans, I've only been here for a year, but yeah, it does suck. If we're not back here next year, it does seem like we're trying to run out on them, but it's really not our call and I don't want anyone to think we're trying to run out and leave on them. Nobody's looking at it that way. Everyone is just trying to figure out where we are going to be and everyone just wants to be somewhere where we have the best chance of winning some games."

Defensive end Charles Grant offered the most optimistic perspective, saying, "If it was the last game in Louisiana then we love you fans. We hope ya'll always support us no matter where we go and just keep believing because if you believe, this team will be back here...Listen to me, I don't think this franchise will move. I think we'll be back. Believe it."

Grant was said to be tearful in this Gannett News Service article from the Lafayette Daily Advertiser.

Fred McAfee told Gannett News Service, "This is really tough. We talked about the importance of getting this win because it might be our last game here. If we do leave, it'll be a sad day. I just hope it doesn't end this way."

Fahkir Brown said, "This is our home state, our home fans and we feel bad we couldn't get a win for them. And the fact that there might not be any more football after this year makes it worse."

Added Fred Booker: "I hope not. It would be terrible, especially since this loss happened in Tiger Stadium where I played my college ball. To come here and not win one game; it hurts that this is what we left the fans with."

Wide receiver Joe Horn told the San Antonio Express-News, "I would love to come back, because the way we left was so hard for me. But I don't know what will happen. (Benson) has the right to do what he pleases."

And finally, offensive lineman Wayne Gandy told the Express-News, "You don't care where it is. We'd take a win in a parking lot somewhere."

If the Saints do move to San Antonio, Gandy can be promised that at least the team will practice in a parking lot somewhere.

Saints owner Tom Benson has been called a lot of things. With Christmas coming this weekend, Tommy Boy has now been labeled a Grinch.

The New Orleans Times-Picayune's Peter Finney writes, in a column entitled "Would Grinch dare to pilfer Saints?", Finney notes that a sign at Sunday's Saints-Panthers game proclaimed that Benson was the Grinch Who Stole Christmas.

Finney also wrote Benson is completely preoccupied with the pending legal battle against the NFL over where the Saints will play in 2006:
"My reading of Benson is, at the moment, he is so wound up in his war with the commissioner, that bringing in a new coach, which would mean a new staff and many new contracts, is on the back burner. There are reports Benson is considering going to court to make San Antonio the team's headquarters against the obvious wishes of Paul Tagliabue."
For Tommy Boy, being called a "Grinch" is a definite step up.

At least it's something the kids, too, can call Benson. It is Christmas, after all.

- Photos of signs from Sunday's Saints-Panthers game can be found here, courtesy of The Third Battle of New Orleans.

- The Charlotte Observer wrote the following after Sunday's Saints-Panthers game in Tiger Stadium:
"The NFL has a mess on its hands. Commissioner Paul Tagliabue has said he wants the Saints to play in Louisiana next season. If some renovations can be made to the Superdome, and the Saints can play there late in the year, great. But playing other games in Baton Rouge, La., is a bad idea. The field was torn up long before Sunday's game, and the facilities aren't exactly major league. Saints owner Tom Benson wants to move the team permanently to San Antonio. That's not going to help the effort to rebuild the Gulf. But Benson owns the team and he's got a viable argument about the facilities in Baton Rouge and the fact the Saints don't draw there."

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Sunday, December 18, 2005

Reports: Benson to seek relocation to S.A. permanently, registers ownership entity in Texas

Several reports are indicating today that Tom Benson will seek to relocate the Saints permanently to San Antonio.

The news comes as the last of Saints games in Louisiana was played today before a sparse crowd in Baton Rouge's Tiger Stadium.

WWL-TV reported that Benson has told Saints players and employees to maintain their leases in San Antonio, because the team is going to stay there.

A source told WWL-TV that Benson is considering suing the NFL if it forces the Saints to return to New Orleans.

NFL vice president of communications Joe Browne told WWL-TV that NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue will decide where the Saints will play next year, but noted that teams can apply for a franchise transfer or relocation up until mid-January.

With this in mind, the Baton Rouge Advocate is reporting that Benson revoked his controlling interest's registration with the Louisiana secretary of state's office, and registered with the Texas secretary of state on October 31 - one day after the WWL-TV camera incident and on the same day as his email to NFL offices bashing Baton Rouge.

The Advocate importantly notes that this move may force any legal action between the NFL and the Saints to Texas courts.

It should also be noted that San Antonio mayor Phil Hardburglar was once a judge in Texas, before his election to his present office.

Continually escalating...


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Saturday, December 17, 2005

HUGE NEWS: NFL, Benson could be on crash course for litigation over 2006 Saints home

In major breaking news this Saturday afternoon, ESPN's Chris Mortensen reports that Tom Benson and the NFL could become adversaries in litigation over the Saints' future location.

It's the biggest bomb yet dropped by Benson, who is apparently so adament over moving the Saints to San Antonio that he's willing to go to court.

Mortensen further reports that NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue is expected to order the Saints back to their Metairie training facility and to New Orleans for the 2006 season. Sources indicate that NFLPA executive director Gene Upshaw told Saints players recently to not renew their residential leases in San Antonio.

Benson, however, apparently will refuse such an order and seek to keep the club in San Antonio with hopes of relocating there permanently.

Major development...


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Hardburglar spins S.A. ticket 'sales'; Saints expect free agency troubles

WOAI's website reports that San Antonio mayor Phil Hardburglar made some comments about ticket sales to the Christmas Eve game between the Saints and Detroit Lions in the Alamodome.

Said Hardburglar, "I believe we'll be knocking at the door of 60,000 on this one... which is remarkable really, considering it's Christmas Eve."

The story notes that "as of Friday more than 50,000 tickets have been sold for the Saints / Detroit Lion's game at noon on Saturday December 24th."

Both Hardburglar and WOAI conveniently don't mention the fact that a real estate investment group that also is trying to court the Saints bought 10,000 tickets earlier this week.

Also, neither Hardburglar nor WOAI mention the San Antonio-specific single ticket discount for the game.

Both facts make the ticket sales to the Saints' Christmas Eve game a bit less "remarkable."

Hardburglar is trying fairly obviously to spin the San Antonio ticket sales against those in Baton Rouge.

But nobody is buying one-sixth of Tiger Stadium's capacity, and nobody has extended a gracious single-ticket price discount for games in Tiger Stadium.

No such similar offer or opportunity has been extended to fans in Louisiana, where it is important to note that Tom Benson has burned all his bridges and pissed on the ashes.

Several Saints players have told the San Antonio Express-News that they believe the team will have a lot of trouble attracting free agents for 2006.

Veteran running back Antowain Smith, who played with the Patriots during their first two Super Bowl title runs in 2001 and 2003, said, "It'd be hard for somebody to come to a situation like that. The weight room is a damn tent. Nobody is going to want to come to that environment." Smith signed a one-year contract with the Saints for this season, and is looking forward to being "free as a bird."

Tight end Ernie Conwell added, "I know I wouldn't (sign as a free agent). No way I'd want to put my family through that kind of turmoil...I can guarantee you, a lot of guys have had their fill. I'm sure they're thinking, 'I'm out of here.'"

Stability and a state-of-the-art training facility are very important to these players, and to countless others.

Which is precisely why they should return to New Orleans, practice in Metairie, and play their 2006 campaign in Tiger Stadium and the Superdome. It's the right thing to do for the players, the coaches, the fans, and the league.

The only one who it's not right for is Tom Benson. And, I suppose, by extension, Phil Hardburglar.


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Friday, December 16, 2005

Upshaw ESPN Radio transcript reveals his disgust with Benson

NFLPA executive director Gene Upshaw commented on the Saints' current situation and their future on ESPN Radio's Game Night. A review of the audio revealed the following notable quotes, many of which show a disdain for Tom Benson:
"What I heard earlier was, no one cares about what’s going on with the Saints, and how can the NFL allow teams to be in San Antonio? You have to understand, the NFL, the NFLPA, I wish we did, we do not own the New Orleans Saints. The New Orleans Saints are owned by Tom Benson. It was his decision on where they went. It is his decision where they are right now. All we are trying to do is change this and put this in a better place for 2006 than it was in 2005."

"Guys are frustrated because they’re not getting the leadership from upstairs, and you know what that means. I don’t have to tell you what that means. It doesn’t get down."

"I told the players we are looking at 2006 as a starting point, and we’re going to work back. We want the players to play and practice in the vicinity or as close to where they’re going to play their games. We want them to live and practice there. And when we went to Metairie, I want to tell you, that facility is actually in better shape than it was when the Saints left it."

"I don’t think you can play all the games in New Orleans next year under the best of circumstances. The architectural report was released today. They are predicting, and hopefully they can stay with this schedule, that the Dome will open Nov. 1. If the Dome opens Nov. 1, that means that you could have at least four games in New Orleans in 2006. So you kind of work back from that, hoping that that date stays. That’s what I told the players. Obviously I’m trying to tell them the information as we are putting it together."

"We’re putting together a playing schedule. We want to get that out in the next few weeks or in the first of January. Paul Tagliabue will do that, and he is looking at all of the options. We are now very concerned about what we see in New Orleans, and Paul is also, and he’ll tell you this, he set up and has his own person now on the ground in New Orleans. We have an office there. We have Eddie Jones, a former general manager with the Dolphins who has agreed to come over and run our office. We have some marketing people that are going down to try and help sell suites, and to help sell tickets, and to do all of that, so that we are on the ground trying to do what needs to be done in New Orleans, but we do not own the team. It’s still owned by Tom Benson. And he makes the decisions."

"There are some things I can’t comment on, and I won’t do it on the air, but there are things that we have to just let happen. What we also have to let happen is the city and the state and the whole surrounding Gulf Coast...We don’t want to be in a position that we abandoned them in a time when they are doing everything that they can do to possibly recover. They look at the NFL as an icon, the Saints. They don’t care about the mayor’s family living in Houston, or the basketball team playing in OKC. What they care about is where the Saints are."

"At the end of the day, Paul Tagliabue does not own the Saints. It’s owned by Tom Benson."
After hearing this interview first-hand, I was left with the very distinct impression that Upshaw is completely disgusted with Tom Benson, and that he believes that the team would be in a far better situation if someone else owned the Saints. How many times did Upshaw note that Benson owned the Saints? If you listen carefully, he even laughed during one of those instances.

The next few weeks are going to be extremely interesting, but could become monumental if Tagliabue and Upshaw have similar thoughts about Benson, and the other NFL owners get the same feeling.


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S.A. paper skews truth; Fielkow speaks; DeShazier pens great column; Benson slammed yet again; Mortensen: Ultimate Saints destination is L.A.

On Thursday, the New Orleans Times-Picayune reported that a meeting between NFLPA president Gene Upshaw and Saints players resulted in a general belief that the team will return to Louisiana for the entirety of the 2006 campaign.

The San Antonio Express-News, however, has a completely different take.

Today, the Express-News ran a story today by Mike Finger, entitled "Saints' future like the present: no easy answers." The article paints a picture largely favorable to San Antonio and Tom Benson.

Finger wrote that the Saints' meeting with Upshaw was "contentious and largely unproductive," and because of that, players were "reaching new frustration levels."

Of course, that has nothing to do with Finger's own admission that national media is swelling to see "an NFL team with no home, with a tent for a weight room, with a high-school baseball stadium for locker rooms."

All while a "pristene" (courtesy ABC's Al Michaels) and "first class" (courtesy NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue) training facility sits unused in Metairie, contrary to Benson's bent beliefs.

Finger affirmed a heavily discussed story involving Benson telling his staff in San Antonio that New Orleans was "unlivable":
"Benson has told his staff that a return to Louisiana isn't possible, saying the state doesn't have the infrastructure to support the Saints while it recovers from Hurricane Katrina."
Finger further notes the blatantly obvious:
"Benson, who already has severed ties with many employees who were in favor of staying in New Orleans, is pushing to keep the team based in San Antonio and to play home games in the Alamodome, which is keeping most of its fall 2006 weekends open to accommodate the team."
And obviously, the San Antonio Express-News is doing its part for Benson by skewing the truth.

The paper has failed to point out that the aforementioned meeting between Saints players and Upshaw resulted in numerous comments indicating that the NFLPA is advocating (and Saints players are expecting) a full return to Louisiana for a split schedule solely between Baton Rouge and New Orleans. (See here for that paper's only other report on the Upshaw meeting.)

Heck, Upshaw himself was on ESPN Radio yesterday, saying that there could be four games in New Orleans based upon Superdome repair projections. This goes along with the Saints' players statements in the Times-Picayune that the NFLPA was hoping for four games in the Superdome and four in Tiger Stadium.

It's a solution to the Saints' chief concern: not having a central home base next season.

Upshaw has noted that the team's Metairie training facility is in great shape. It beats the hell out of, quoting Finger again, "an NFL team with no home, with a tent for a weight room, with a high-school baseball stadium for locker rooms."

(Again, for photos of the training facility in its present state, see here.)

And, Upshaw told ESPN Radio that Saints players are frustrated due to a lack of leadership in the front office.

Perhaps (again quoting Finger) that's why the team is "reaching new frustration levels" and players are so "contentious"?

But then again, what do we expect? The paper is based in a city whose vulturous leaders have continued to willfully slither to a new disgusting low in courting Benson, truth and righteousness be damned.

Well, not technically. But Arnold Fielkow (ex-Saints VP fired by Benson for his pro-New Orleans stance) did write an amazing must-read op-ed for today's Times-Picayune, entitled "Team Players: Our economy, and our hearts, need the Saints."

In it, Fielkow writes,
"The Metairie training facility is ready; players' doctor's offices, clinics and hospitals are open, and even the players' hotel is operating. Everything may not be perfect, but it is certainly better than the nomadic existence in San Antonio that so many players and staff have complained about."
Fielkow effectively chips away at Benson's statements that New Orleans is "unlivable" and appeals to Benson to have the Saints "truly be 'Saints' and do the right thing for our community."

It appears Fielkow will continue to be a great advocate for New Orleans, and a tremendous thorn in Benson's side.

Today's Times-Picayune features a great piece by John DeShazier, entitled "Bringing Saints back to N.O. is right thing to do."

In it, DeShazier writes:
"As much as Saints owner Tom Benson has made it obvious he wants the team's stay in San Antonio to be an extended one, it's a no-brainer that the Saints should begin and end the 2006 season in New Orleans. Practicing at the team's training facility in Metairie, playing a split schedule (if need be) at Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge and the Superdome. ...

"The coaching staff and players are unanimous in their desire to be in one place the entire season, to again have all the trappings and comforts that accompany being an NFL franchise after being shuffled from city to city, flying to play five home games and eight road games, being shoved out of the Alamodome and into a high school locker room in favor of the NCAA volleyball championships and the Alamo Bowl.

"The only 'indignity' they'll suffer from practicing in Metairie and playing in Baton Rouge is the bus ride to home games."
DeShazier also calls on players who have no home-grown ties to Louisiana to voice support for such a return, given the lack of insufficient facilities and required travel that a split schedule involving San Antonio would necessitate.

And the hits just keep on coming, this time from Houston Chronicle columnist Richard Justice.

Justice, in a piece about the Texans, its owner Bob McNair, and his newest hire Dan Reeves, writes near the end of the story:
"This is about you showing this city you're more Bob Kraft than Tom Benson."
The clear reason for this is that Kraft, the Patriots' owner, is the absolute best in the NFL, while Benson is on the total opposite end of the spectrum.

And Tommy Boy is well on his way to anointing himself (through his actions) the worst owner in professional sports history.

ESPN NFL reporter Chris Mortensen writes on his ESPN Insider page (to which I do not have access) that he believe the Saints' ultimate destination will be Los Angeles, and presumably (based on the ESPN NFL front page linking to the Mortensen story) that current USC coach Pete Carroll could be the coach in such a scenario. Check it out if you're an Insider...


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Thursday, December 15, 2005

Pics from training facility prove Benson is a liar

An excellent blog site following New Orleans' recovery - aptly titled The Third Battle of New Orleans - has posted some outstanding photos of the Saints' Metairie training facility, taken this afternoon. (Two of the photos are reproduced below.)

As you can see, the facility is in great shape, and is quite obviously vacant.

Which runs completely contrary to Benson's assertions to his staff yesterday that the facility was occupied by FEMA and the National Guard, or that the facility is unusable.

Makes you wonder: What the hell is Tom Benson thinking?


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S.A. group with interest in Saints buys block of tix for last game in Alamodome; NFLPA: Louisiana a major possibility for Saints in '06

An international real estate development company with regional headquarters in San Antonio has purchased 10,000 tickets to the Christmas Eve Saints game against the Detroit Lions in the Alamodome.

The company, HollyHills Group, will distribute the tickets to military personnel around San Antonio.

While I applaud supporting our military, I am admittedly suspicious of possible ulterior motives on the part of the HollyHills Group.

You see, this is the same group that is proposing to construct a sports and entertainment district in San Antonio, fully equipped with a brand new NFL football stadium. In fact, the first linked San Antonio Express-News article above states that HollyHills Group CEO Joe Heitzler told the paper that "the Saints are very interested in the stadium component of the sports and entertainment district."

(More details of the HollyHills plan can be found here.)

Purchasing nearly one-sixth of the Alamodome capacity to the Saints-Lions game on Christmas Eve is an act of good faith toward Tom Benson, who clearly has full intentions of moving the Saints to San Antonio by any means necessary (be it lying to staff or making his team practice in a parking lot).

Notably, this 10,000-ticket purchase also shows that there were about 40,000 seats sold for the game, since the official Saints news release states, "The generous donation swells the Saints' ticket count for the Dec. 24 clash against the Lions to well over 50,000."

(Use of the word "swells" shows that publicizing a large crowd at the Alamodome, whether by actual fan ticket purchases or large donations, will be relied upon by Benson in trying to sway the NFL to vote his way.)

And no, the crowd in Tiger Stadium for this Sunday's Panthers-Saints game may not be as large, but it must be pointed out that Benson has not treated the citizens of San Antonio or the state of Texas in nearly the same disrespectful and disingenous manner as New Orleans, Baton Rouge, and Louisiana.

A lot of ill feeling has "swelled" towards Benson throughout Louisiana, which undoubtedly has driven down ticket sales in a state that has ardently supported the Saints through thin and thinner for nearly four decades.

It's also a direct contrast to the following story...

According to this article by Brian Allee-Walsh of the Times-Picayune, a Wednesday meeting conducted by NFL Players Association President Gene Upshaw with Saints players in San Antonio revealed that Upshaw's desires are for the team "to return to their training facility in Metairie and split their eight home games between Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge and the Superdome."

Saints defensive end Darren Howard, who by some accounts is likely to not be with the team after this season, told the Times-Picayune:
"The impression I got from (Upshaw) is we'd be back next year in New Orleans and play four games in the Superdome and four games in Baton Rouge. He didn't say it like that, but that's the impression I got.

"I guess that's what he's arguing for and the commissioner is pushing for. If I had to guess, if I had to put my money on it, I think we'll be back in New Orleans next year. But it's all hearsay until it happens."
The San Antonio Express-News, however, refused to report this development in its edition today. A five-paragraph blurb made note of the meeting, but nothing was mentioned regarding a potential return of the Saints to New Orleans.

If this plan works out, it would alleviate player concerns about staying in one place if at all possible during the 2006 season, and ensure that NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue's promise of giving New Orleans another chance will not go unheeded.

It would further guarantee that Tommy Boy will yet again embarrass himself in some fashion at some point.

In fact, one has to wonder whether Benson lied to his staff yesterday, about the team's training facility and the state of the city, after hearing about Upshaw's meeting.

As always on this rollercoaster, we shall see.


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Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Benson tells staff that training facility still occupied by FEMA and National Guard; Manning comments; Report: Haslett asks to be fired

WWL radio reports this evening that Tom Benson has told Saints employees at a meeting in San Antonio today that the team's training facility is still occupied by FEMA and National Guard troops, and that employees must stay away from New Orleans as it is "unlivable."

WWL radio's Bobby Hebert and Kenny Wilkerson sports show is still discussing the situation at this hour. Wilkerson has contended that many employees had to cover their mouths to keep from laughing at Benson's comments.

This may be the biggest indication yet that Benson has gone right off the deep end in his disdain for returning the Saints to New Orleans.

First, it is without any dispute that the Saints' training facility in Metairie is pristene and in first-class condition, and is ready and waiting for its rightful suitors to return. FEMA and the National Guard are not occupying the facility in any respect. This comes just over a week after NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue personally toured the facility and deemed it in "first-class" condition.

Second, to say that New Orleans is uninhabitable is a direct slap in the face of those who are presently living there or who are returning there.

Benson's direct, irrational lies to his staff may be the biggest occurrence to date in the Saints' ongoing fiasco.


Saints legend Archie Manning appeared on the WWL radio program with Bobby Hebert and Kenny Wilkerson, and had the following comments about Benson's antics today:

"That's the most unbelievable thing. It seems to me they could've been back here (in New Orleans) for the open date. The mood, disposition, and attitude of the coaches and players would be 200 percent better. We know why he (Benson) didn't - he wants to move the team over there (to S.A.)."

"The team is getting some bad info if it's blaming Tagliabue."
And, finally, on whether the Saints should play any games in San Antonio in 2006:

"No. I don't think so. I know the NFL doesn't want to be in S.A., I can guarantee you that."

The NFL Network is reporting that Saints head coach Jim Haslett has asked Benson to be fired, or he will step down at the end of the 2005 season.

More to come on this...


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Brooks benched...but why?

WWL-TV reports this afternoon that longtime Saints quarterback Aaron Brooks has been benched for the remainder of the 2005 season.

This comes just days after Brooks blasted Saints owner Tom Benson in an interview with Jim Gray, which aired on Westwood One radio Monday and partially on CBS's NFL Today pregame show Sunday.

It also comes on the same day reports are making the rounds that a reconstructed and upgraded Superdome is expected to be NFL-ready by November 2006. (You don't suppose benching Brooks today could be an effort to overshadow the positive Superdome news, eh? Nah. Benson wouldn't do that...)

It leads to the obvious question: After so many woefully bad games (two moments that I can recall involve Brooks throwing the ball to a group of defenders off his back leg while falling into the endzone, and running out of bounds while trying to run out the clock late in the game), all of a sudden Brooks is getting yanked now?

His poor play over the last few seasons obviously hasn't been enough to get him benched. Even when Brooks was injured, he still started games. Even when the backup was a guy by the name of Jake Delhomme (who, ironically, will start Sunday for the Carolina Panthers against the Saints).

Now, it seems all too clear that his comments off the field, and not his play on it, have cost him his starting role with the team.

Especially since a Saints spokesperson felt the need to make sure to assert that the benching has nothing to do with Brooks' criticism of Benson or NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue.

(Yeah, right. And Tommy Boy doesn't want to move to San Antonio either.)

To me, it's an indication that Benson is inflicting upon Brooks the same punishment he gave Arnold Fielkow.

Fielkow was fired for wanting to keep the Saints in New Orleans, making Benson unhappy.

Brooks has been benched and will be fired for criticizing Benson for being greedy and having his team practice in a parking lot and dress in a high school baseball stadium, making Benson unhappy.

(Benson probably would fire Tagliabue if he controlled the NFL too.)

None of it looks good on Benson. The glaring implication is that it's either Tommy Boy's way, or the highway. Even if it means abandoning a hometown city in need, or allowing players to practice in conditions that would embarrass even the smallest college program.

The real lesson: No matter how hard the NFL tries, it cannot prevent ole Tommy Boy from continuing to be an all-out public relations nightmare.


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NFL to subsidize Saints?; More on Superdome reconstruction; Benson bashed for S.A. conditions

A post on the message boards indicates that WDSU-TV's Fletcher Mackel reported yesterday that the NFL has agreed to subsidize the Saints due to the conditions in New Orleans.

Most importantly, the subsidy would only apply if the team remains in New Orleans.

Apparently, according to other posts on the forum, Mackel also noted that inside sources indicated Benson had refused the subsidy in order to keep open his option of moving the team to San Antonio. Benson also could use such a subsidy as a bargaining chip with San Antonio in relocation discussions.

If this is correct, it is a striking blow made by NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue, showing a true devotion to returning the team to its rightful home.

And a complete opposite on Tommy Boy's part.

Jeff Duncan of the New Orleans Times-Picayune provides more specific details on the Superdome reconstruction in today's edition.

The article notes that the Dome could be open for NFL football by November 1, 2006, with new enhancements throughout the facility such as "renovated luxury suites and open-air club rooms with new furniture and flat-screen TVs; glass walls on the corners of the building; VIP entry ways to club lounges; and state-of-the-art electronics, including new scoreboards and a high-definition "halo" board like the one in New Orleans Arena."

Most improvements to the luxury suites and club rooms wouldn't be finalized until the start of the 2007 season.

The article goes on to state that the cost of the repairs and enhancements are estimated to range from $154 million to $182 million, not including possible increases due to shortages of materials and labor post-Katrina. State insurance and FEMA would cover nearly 90 percent of the costs, with the state having to pony up the remaining amount.

Among the options for the state to come up with the money is refinancing the Superdome's bond debt, which could result in $50 million.

Another notable portion of the article, reproduced below from Duncan's article, focuses on the findings of an architectural study of the Superdome:

- The Dome's structural frame was unaffected by the storm.

- The exterior aluminum skin on the sides of the building received minor aesthetic damage.

- All of the 53,000 square feet of carpet, 30 percent of the Sheetrock and 15 percent of the ceiling tiles will need to be replaced.

- Nearly all of the furnishings in the 165 luxury suites were damaged and will need to be replaced.

- Fifty percent of the food-service equipment in the concession stands were damaged.

- Thirty-five percent of the seats received water damage.

- The synthetic turf football field was ruined by contaminated water and will need to be replaced.

- Eleven of the Dome's 38 escalators and six of the 15 elevators will need some repair or replacement.

- All four corner scoreboards were damaged and will need to be replaced.

Even fantasy football writers are chiming in on the reality that is the Saints' dismal conditions in San Antonio.

Take and columnist Gregg Rosenthal, for example. In his latest piece, he offers the following commentary as the lead:
"My favorite part of Monday Night Football was the footage of a Saints walk through. The team had been kicked out of their newest practice home by the latest rodeo or NCAA fencing tournament that appears to be so popular in San Antonio. Saints owner Tom Benson spares no expense making his team as uncomfortable as possible.

"The Saints players were all wearing street clothes, some with winter coats on, one player with camouflage shorts, a backward hat, and what looked like flip-flops. A few players had their hands in there pockets, turned away from the action. They had all the energy of a bored high school basketball team forced to run a layup line."
These comments echo those of Aaron Brooks, and are part of a slowly but surely growing perspective on the team's situation.

It's becoming more and more apparent that the Saints' conditions now are not so much because of what Katrina has done, but rather are due to what Tom Benson won't do.

Benson could have his team practicing in Metairie, living in their own homes (reports indicate that only one of the Saints' players' homes was destroyed by Katrina), and preparing to play the second half of 2006 in the refurbished and upgraded Superdome with a certainty about the future.

In doing so, Tommy Boy could give New Orleans a real chance at recovery by being a leader in a time where leadership there has been in doubt. He could show some FAITH in his home town.

Or, he could have his team practice in a parking lot, dress in a high school baseball field, work out under an outdoor tent, live in apartments, and have no idea what lies ahead for them or their families. In doing so, he could completely alienate most of his players, as well as one of the most unbelievably loyal fan bases in professional sports.

I think all of us in Louisiana have seen over the years that Tommy Boy will try to get whatever HE wants, without a hint of conscience about anyone and everyone else harmed in the process.

Players, coaches, front office employees, fans, New Orleans' recovery...Apparently, nothing matters more to Tommy Boy than money from a new place where people haven't been soured on him.


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