San Antonio kicking off its final NFL audition
City kicking off its final NFL audition
In the 16 weeks since the New Orleans Saints fled Hurricane Katrina and landed on San Antonio's doorstep, what began as a baby-sitting job became the city's mission to gain custody of a team of its own.
So Saturday afternoon, when a crowd expected to top 60,000 packs the Alamodome for the third time in three months, it won't simply be another NFL game.
It will be San Antonio's closing argument.
"We've made the case," said Christian Archer, Mayor Phil Hardberger's chief assistant. "We've done everything we can do to prove we're an NFL city. Now it's up to the commissioner."
How NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue responds to the city's case is yet to be determined. Though Saints owner Tom Benson is pushing to keep the team in San Antonio at least through next season, Tagliabue said no decisions regarding the Saints' future would be made until next month.
And though officials expect a sellout for Saturday's Saints-Detroit Lions game ÃƒÂƒÃ‚Â¢ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â€ÂšÃ‚Â¬ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬? which would put the Alamodome's three-game attendance average above 62,000 ÃƒÂƒÃ‚Â¢ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â€ÂšÃ‚Â¬ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬? the league isn't convinced that the Saints, or any other NFL team, belongs in San Antonio.
Tagliabue met this week with Benson and an eight-owner advisory committee, and a league spokesman said the commissioner remains focused on returning the Saints to Louisiana next year.
Options for game sites there are Baton Rouge's Tiger Stadium ÃƒÂƒÃ‚Â¢ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â€ÂšÃ‚Â¬ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬? which averaged 40,310 tickets sold in four games this season ÃƒÂƒÃ‚Â¢ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â€ÂšÃ‚Â¬ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬? and the Katrina-damaged Louisiana Superdome, which New Orleans officials said could be ready by Nov. 1.
"The NFL has never been positive on San Antonio, and it still isn't today," County Judge Nelson Wolff said. "We just have to wait and see how it plays out."
But if Benson feels strongly enough about keeping the Saints in San Antonio, where they've been based since Sept. 2, there's a chance he could do it even without the league's approval. Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis paved the way for such a move when he won a legal battle that allowed him to move his team to and from Los Angeles.
Katrina's aftermath, however, has made such a showdown a sensitive issue.
The NFL doesn't want to give the appearance of abandoning New Orleans while the city attempts to rebuild. 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.
Benson also has kept quiet. But he's severed the organization's ties to several staff members who were in favor of returning the Saints to Louisiana, and he's been reluctant to commit to returning the team to its headquarters in Metairie, La. That facility was declared to be in "first-class" condition by Tagliabue two weeks ago.
Because the Saints still don't know where they'll live, play or practice next season, many players, coaches and staff members are in limbo, unable to line up housing or make family plans beyond the next couple weeks.
"This team really needs some stability," said Archer, the mayor's chief assistant. "I think that's the case that Mr. Benson is making to Mr. Tagliabue."
After a tour of New Orleans two weeks ago, Tagliabue said he expected the Saints would play another split schedule next season, with games in Louisiana and San Antonio.
To Benson, the Alamodome is more attractive than Tiger Stadium because he can make more money off concessions and parking and because San Antonio has drawn larger crowds.
But few consider the Alamodome ÃƒÂƒÃ‚Â¢ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â€ÂšÃ‚Â¬ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬? as it presently stands ÃƒÂƒÃ‚Â¢ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â€ÂšÃ‚Â¬ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬? a long-term solution. Its capacity and luxury suites are well below the NFL average, and Wolff said the Saints have "said through intermediaries that they want a new stadium."
Still, there is optimism among local leaders that the city has made enough of an impression to make it a viable option. They drummed up significant support in the business community, and the first two regular-season NFL games in San Antonio history, played Oct. 2 and Oct. 16 at the Alamodome, drew an average of 62,215 fans.
The second game was a sellout, and after a holiday ticket push that included increased marketing and group discounts that cut the price of many $70 tickets in half, the Saints are expecting to fill the 65,000-seat Alamodome on Saturday.
Said Archer: "This is a city that really got it and really rallied behind the Saints. I think it's pretty clear that at least for the 2006 season, if not beyond, that San Antonio has absolutely made a strong statement for the league. That will speak for itself."
RE: San Antonio kicking off its final NFL audition
Sorry we couldn't see that here, nor could we see a winner. Their play in Tiger Stadium has been some of the worst I've seen.... oh sorry no, the Green Bay 55 - 3 spanking by the 3-11 Packers this year and 55 - 21 point drubbing by the Colts on Monday night football in 2003 were pretty bad.
I actually hope the Saints get spanked in San Antonio, truly. I want their hometown croud to feel it and see how they react.
Discounts in San Antonio and not in Baton Rouge? Big advertising in San Antonio and not in Baton Rouge? Tom Benson is the biggest p.o.s. on the planet.
Halo, I appreciated your interview with Jeff Crouere wherein you stated that Benson could have been a true "Saint" in New Orleans but chose to be satan instead. I'm paraphrasing but that's basically what you said.
This guy is has no heart. He shouldn't even be welcome in New Orleans.
Forget the Alamo and remember where the Saints are from. If you are not for the Saints remaining in New Orleans (even with a name change) then I am sorry but your are the enemy, PERIOD!!!!. No I'm not sorry you suckafish!!!
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