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Saints owner's actions akin to looting

this is a discussion within the Saints Community Forum; Saints owner's actions akin to looting If the future of the New Orleans Saints is in owner Tom Benson's hands, it doesn't look like the future is in New Orleans. That would be a shame. If the Saints leave New ...

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Old 11-04-2005, 04:11 PM   #1
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Saints owner's actions akin to looting

Saints owner's actions akin to looting


If the future of the New Orleans Saints is in owner Tom Benson's hands, it doesn't look like the future is in New Orleans.

That would be a shame.

If the Saints leave New Orleans permanently in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, NFL owners should wear bags over their heads, just as Saints fans embarrassed by the incompetence of their "Ain'ts" do.

Of course, there isn't much NFL owners or Commissioner Paul Tagliabue can do to persuade Benson's Saints to stay other than engage in rhetoric. Ask Al Davis or Georgia Frontiere or other owners who have moved their franchises despite efforts by fellow owners to make them stay.

It seems the best New Orleans can hope for is a Cleveland-style deal to keep the logo and nickname for an expansion team, which Mayor Ray Nagin already has mentioned in anticipation of Benson's exit.

Benson hasn't announced intentions to get out, at least not out loud. But since the hurricane, he has pondered whether to offer ticket refunds, fired a Saints executive outspoken in his desire to stay, cuddled with the mayor of San Antonio, shoved a cameraman in Baton Rouge, told reporters to get off his property and argued with a heckling fan. These appear to be more the actions of a looter than a man determined to help rebuild a hurting city.

In addition, Benson sent an e-mail to Tagliabue saying he definitely would not return to Baton Rouge for Saints games this year or next after he was taunted by fans. In the e-mail, he called security at LSU's stadium "inadequate to nonexistent," and claimed he and his family "could have all been severely injured or killed." However, a Saints spokesman said Benson sent the e-mail out of frustration and hasn't decided whether he will attend the Bears-Saints game.

The league doesn't sound very interested in being a leader either. Asked if he thought there would be a New Orleans Saints in 2010, Tagliabue answered: "You know, I think it really turns on, 'What kind of a New Orleans will there be?' That really is the question. And we're going to do everything possible to make sure there's a New Orleans Saints. But people larger than us and institutions larger than us are going to have to succeed in making sure there is a robust, healthy New Orleans, with fans and businesses and all the things you hope a city can have. But certainly we're going to do everything we can to try to keep the New Orleans Saints as the New Orleans Saints."

In other words, don't ever confuse those warm, fuzzy United Way-NFL commercials about building community with the cold, hard facts of business.

But as the Bears travel to Baton Rouge to play the Saints, it's too bad Jim Finks, former general manager of the Bears and later the Saints, isn't around to remind Benson that the NFL owes Louisiana more than a goodbye wave. Maybe Mike Ditka, former coach of the Bears and later the Saints, could help if Benson hadn't fired him. Or maybe White Sox fans could write a letter to Benson telling him how grateful they are that their team doesn't play in St. Petersburg.

It is possible there really isn't an institution larger than the NFL in New Orleans. As a rallying point, football has played as vital a role as music and food.

In 1963, when AFL-NFL competition was at its height, New Orleans expressed its desire for a pro franchise by staging a doubleheader NFL exhibition. The Cowboys played the Lions and the Bears played the Colts. Despite a deluge of 2.5 inches of rain in 28 minutes, more than 51,000 fans watched the games, which lasted until 1 a.m.

More important, as Wayne Mack recounted in his book "The Saga of the Saints," seating was integrated for the first time at Tulane Stadium. Civil rights legislation had not yet passed in Congress, but the NFL—a leader at the time—would not play in a segregated stadium.

"Those fans … all of them … wanted a team, and they proved they could sit together, cheer together and boo together," Mack wrote. When it came time to award the city a franchise, Mack wrote: "It is a certainty that George Halas, seeing the attendance at those exhibition games in New Orleans, helped make the decision."

Before the AFL and NFL agreed on a merger in 1966 (which began in 1970), pro football needed an antitrust exemption. Two of former Commissioner Pete Rozelle's allies were Louisiana Sen. Russell Long and Rep. Hale Boggs.

It was assumed Rozelle promised an expansion team in exchange for their help, but Rozelle said in a 1991 interview: "So many people thought that leverage was used by politicians to force us to locate an expansion franchise when the truth was we were dying to get into the city. … We knew it would be a lock as a big-league franchise and it has turned out to be that."

Long and Boggs attached the antitrust exemption to an anti-inflation bill supported and signed by President Lyndon Johnson. The Saints began play in 1967. If Benson and other owners in the NFL monopoly can't see their way to keep the Saints in New Orleans, maybe politicians can revisit the issue of antitrust.

Or maybe NFL owners including Benson can lean on the lessons of New York Giants owner Wellington Mara, called "the conscience" of the league upon his passing at age 89.

Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay, whose father Robert moved out of Baltimore by dark of night in 1984, wrote this recollection of Mara: "He taught me, as an owner, it's not all about 'me.' NFL ownership is not an entitlement; it's a blessing that should lend a heart towards gratitude and humility. Stay true to your roots, which is an impassioned love for the game, and when the day is done, keep that magic wonderment of the fans in the upper deck, amazed at what a great game we share with all our friends and loved ones."

Indianapolis is building a new stadium for the Colts too. Irsay's tribute letter is sincere, but Benson and his fellow businessmen know business has a way of molding sentiment.

http://www.chicagotribune.com/sports...ck=1&cset=true
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