Wednesday, August 31, 2005

WHO CARES ABOUT THEM SAINTS TODAY

Are you ready for some football? No.

People in the southern United States are usually huge football fans and would normally be looking forward to this weekend. This week the college football season kicks off, and a week later so does the NFL season. These are supposed to be fun times for people in states like Louisiana and Mississippi but who could really blame people for having different priorities at the moment.

In fact the situation in New Orleans is so bad that it's not likely that any sporting events are going to be played there at all, for months, while they try and rebuild the place.

Which leads to a big question. What the heck is going to happen to the New Orleans Saints?!?

Really, nobody cares about football down there right now, but the future of the Saints is going to be important for people from the area, in the long run. People in Louisiana are as mad about football as Canadians are mad about hockey, probably even more so. New Orleans is one of the biggest football towns in the United States. New Orleans has hosted probably more major championship football games, college and pro, than anywhere else in the United States- certainly as many as Miami and Pasadena. Much has been made about this year being the 20th anniversary of the famous Chicago Bears 15-1 Super Bowl team with Walter Payton, Jim McMahon and the Fridge and the rest of them. That was one of the many great NFL teams that wrapped up a Super Bowl title at the Superdome. New Orleans also hosts the Sugar Bowl as part of the BCS. There is a lot of football history in that city.

So a season without any football- college or pro- played in New Orleans at the Superdome is going to be strange and very sorrowful for all football fans. It's almost like having no baseball in New York, or no hockey in Toronto. Though I do think people in New Orleans probably have a real perspective on what is really important in life, after what they've gone through. Heck, Canada got through it when we had no hockey season, and we never had to concern ourselves with any floods. They won't care about football for a while down there. But eventually, they will care again.

What's sad for these fans is that the future of the New Orleans Saints franchise is now in question. The Saints are now a team without a city. They have no stadium to play in anywhere in New Orleans, and no way for anyone to see them play in New Orleans because the entire town's flooded. So it's obvious the team is going to be gone for the season, just like everyone else.

Right now the club has evacuated to San Antonio where they will be continuing to practice for the upcoming season. Their final pre-season game is tomorrow night in Oakland. As for places to play, the most logical place to go would seem to be Baton Rouge where the LSU Tigers play NCAA football in a huge stadium. LSU only uses the stadium on Saturdays so it would be free for the Saints to use Sundays. The NFL certainly would prefer Baton Rouge as they want this team to play as close to New Orleans and their fans as possible.

But owner Tom Benson had been threatening the city of New Orleans with demands for a new stadium before this season started. Their Superdome lease actually expires this year. In fact this franchise has been threatening to leave the city for years. They actually threatened to move to Gulfport, MS a few years ago, but that deal never happened. The Saints have loyal, passionate fans, who've stuck with this franchise through some really terrible seasons and lousy teams over the years. But they play in a small market in a city that had very little going for it economically to begin with, and now with this Katrina wipeout of New Orleans this could really be the end of the city as a major sports town, especially if a lot of people decide not to come back.

Rumors are now swirling that owner Tom Benson will simply transfer the team to San Antonio's Alamodome permanently and be done with it. It's also no secret that Los Angeles wants a team back, but San Antonio seems to want one more. Benson owns a bunch of car dealerships there, and San Antonio is mad about football.

I fear this could be the end of the NFL in New Orleans and in Louisiana, which will be yet another tragedy on top of tragedy for the people down there. Football is religion and a part of the culture down there, almost as much as Mardi Gras and the French Quarter. They need to have football around as part of the recovery process, whenever the recovery starts happening. At least after 9/11 happened the Yankees and the other sports teams were able to lift the spirits of New Yorkers and allow them to resume their normal lives.

But I don't know if life will ever get back to normal for the people from New Orleans.

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