01-06-2006, 03:37 PM
1000 Posts +
Join Date: Apr 2005
I hate Phil Hardberger
Football: Hardberger defends himself, city
Web Posted: 01/05/2006 12:00 AM CST
Express-News Staff Writer
In his first extended public comments since Saints owner Tom Benson decided last week to return the NFL franchise to Louisiana, Mayor Phil Hardberger insisted Wednesday that his effort to sell out three Saints games at the Alamodome and keep the team in San Antonio beyond this season was not wasted.
"We accomplished our goal of proving we are an NFL-ready town and have positioned San Antonio as the first option for the Saints in case it doesn't work out for them in New Orleans," Hardberger said.
The mayor said local enthusiasm for the Saints has changed the city's image in the NFL's eyes and could convince other teams with stadium or market issues to explore San Antonio as a relocation site.
"We would welcome any other NFL team that wants to talk seriously about moving here," Hardberger said. "And I don't see how (NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue) can disregard what we have done. Now, at least, he has looked at the town, which is probably more than he has done in a decade."
The Saints moved operations to San Antonio after Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans on Aug. 29. They averaged 62,666 fans for three games at the 65,000-seat Alamodome, including one on Christmas Eve that drew 63,747 after area businesses bought nearly 20,000 tickets.
"We wanted to show the NFL, one, that we have the fan base and, two, that we have the corporate base, and I feel like we succeeded with both," Hardberger said. "I believe anybody that has a professional sports franchise in the country took notice that we essentially were able to fill the stadium three times, including on Christmas Eve."
Despite his team's success in San Antonio, Benson announced Friday that the Saints would return to Louisiana and attempt to play their 2006 home schedule at the Superdome, which Benson said could reopen as soon as Sept. 15.
Hardberger, who learned of Benson's decision while vacationing in the Gulf of Mexico, said the development caught him off guard.
"I thought the eventual outcome would be a split season in which we would get half the games," Hardberger said.
Still, Hardberger said he harbors no ill feelings toward Benson, who had empowered aides and other emissaries to hold informal talks with city officials about relocating the Saints permanently to San Antonio.
Hardberger argued the Saints would have trouble drawing fans and generating money in New Orleans, which faces a massive rebuilding effort. He also said he expected to negotiate with Benson after the season.
"I suspect Benson's decision to return was based on incentives (from the NFL) of a positive nature, as well as pressure," Hardberger said. "I think the NFL was looking out for its image."
The NFL and Louisiana state officials said Benson made the decision on his own and was not pressured.
But Benson has not committed to keeping the team in Louisiana beyond 2006. The Saints' lease agreement with the state of Louisiana includes out clauses that can be exercised after next season.
Asked if he thought the Saints would attempt again to relocate to San Antonio, Hardberger said: "I do not think the door is closed for eternity. I think the door is probably closed for 2006."
Hardberger said Benson essentially told him the same thing in a telephone conversation Monday.
"(Benson) told me, 'The decision has been made for 2006, but I want you to know you did a great job,' and, without offering any specifics, said he looked forward to continuing to work with me," said Hardberger, who characterized the conversation as one of "graciousness."
While Benson and Tagliabue have not ruled out playing a game or two in San Antonio next season, Hardberger indicated such a schedule might not be acceptable to the city.
"I don't know if I would want to make a decision on an invitation that hasn't even been issued, but clearly I do feel like we are a full-season NFL town," Hardberger said.
Asked what he would do if the league offered the Alamodome only Saints exhibition games next season, Hardberger said: "I would have to think about that. Kind of see how the citizens feel about it."
Hardberger's actions the past four months have made him unpopular in Louisiana, where Saints fans call him "Mayor Hard-burglar."
But Hardberger offered no apologies.
"I wanted the team here, and I made the effort," he said. "I wouldn't do anything different."
I hate this guy. What a *****. He just sounds like a whiner. Somebody needs to tea bag this man and get him a muzzle to shut his big mouth.