4 San Antonio Saints games?
4 San Antonio Saints games?
Express-News Staff Writer
Negotiations on a deal that would move half of the New Orleans Saints' 2005 home games to the Alamodome reached the point of near-agreement Thursday with final NFL approval the only remaining hurdle, sources said.
Sources close to the negotiations said city officials and Saints officials have hammered out a deal that would bring regular-season NFL games to San Antonio for the first time ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â€Â and could portend a permanent move by the Saints to the Alamo City.
A high-ranking city official said Thursday night the NFL has yet to sign off on the deal. But other city government sources said they expect no difficulty in gaining league approval.
An announcement on an agreement, sources said, could come as early as today.
"It looks a little better every day," said B.J. "Red" McCombs, the San Antonio businessman and former Minnesota Vikings owner who has helped facilitate talks between the city and the Saints.
Sources say the likely dates and opponents for the four Saints' games are Oct. 2 against the Buffalo Bills, Oct. 16 against the Atlanta Falcons, Dec. 4 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Dec. 24 against the Detroit Lions. The Oct. 2 date opened after the Builder's Showcase Expo at the Alamodome agreed to reschedule, dome director Mike Abington said.
The plan being discussed also would move three other Saints' home games to LSU's Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge, La.
Owner Tom Benson declined comment when reached Thursday night at his downtown hotel. Earlier in the day, Benson expressed gratitude to San Antonio for allowing the Saints to move their base of operations to the city.
"I don't know what the NFL would have done if San Antonio hadn't taken us in," said Benson, who has strong personal and business ties to the city.
The first of the Saints' eight home games, originally set for Sept. 18 against the New York Giants, already has been moved by the league to Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., and has been rescheduled for Sept.19.
Projected dates for Baton Rouge are Oct. 30 vs. the Miami Dolphins, Nov. 6 vs. the Chicago Bears and Dec. 18 vs. the Carolina Panthers.
The Saints, displaced last week by Hurricane Katrina, open the season Sunday on the road against Carolina.
Civic leaders this week began an aggressive push for host rights to at least a portion of the Saints' home schedule ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â€Â as a first step, sources have said, in convincing the NFL to consider San Antonio as a permanent relocation site for the team.
Relief efforts in New Orleans have prevented the team from reoccupying their training headquarters in nearby Metairie, La. Moreover, the Saint's home stadium, the Superdome, is unusable for this season ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â€Â and, according to Louisiana state officials, may have to be razed.
McCombs said behind-the-scene efforts by others, including Mayor Phil Hardberger and Henry Cisneros, the former mayor and U.S. Housing secretary, appear to be winning over NFL officials skeptical of the city's ability to support a team.
With a deal more and more likely, city staff is working feverishly to prepare the Alamodome for what would be the city's regular-season NFL debut Oct. 2.
"The preparations we are making are similar to the ones we make for the Alamo Bowl, but everything is in a tentative fashion," Abington said.
Preparations, Abington said, include arranging for nearly 300 employees to work on game days and determining a schedule for installing the turf system.
"It's a monumental task," he said, "but it's fairly routine."
The chances of the Saints moving permanently to San Antonio may depend on the support from local fans and corporations, and on the volume of ticket sales for the four Alamodome games.
McCombs predicted that tickets would go fast.
"You will find people fighting for tickets," McCombs said. "For every game, you will see the better seats scalped and scalped at pretty high prices."
"It's the Saint Anthony Saints", he says in the most sarcastic, yet disappointed, voice possible.
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