Thursday, April 28, 2005

See ya, Saints

Something that had been gathering steam to me over the last year or so became crystal clear this morning.

The New Orleans Saints are headed to Los Angeles.

It might not happen tonight, or tomorrow, or this year, or the next, but within the next four years I predict that the NFL will make the move it desires and return a franchise to Los Angeles. LA is the second-largest media market in the country, and an NFL team there means mucho when you're talking TV and advertising revenue.

The NFL has gone on record several times over the last 18 months or so that it strongly desires to get a franchise in LA before the end of the decade. (In other words, it will happen.) There's no way NFL owners will allow further expansion for the near future, for at least two reasons. One, the talent can only spread around so much before the game level completely falls off. And two, 32 teams divides up nicely in terms of divisions, scheduling, etc. So where does that leave things?

Sometime last season I read and heard that there were three franchises being eyed for a move to LA: the Minnesota Vikings, Indianapolis Colts, and New Orleans Saints. Since then, the Vikings have found themselves a new owner, the Colts have a new stadium deal that has been approved by the voters, and the Saints...let's just say things don't look good for the Crescent City. Unless, of course, the Vikings' new owner (who is from Phoenix, I believe) decides to move his new team closer to home. That just doesn't seem that likely to me.

Which brings me to this: Tom Benson knows what kind of leverage he has with the state of Louisiana. Ex-governor Mike Foster made a boneheaded deal and salted away taxpayer funds to line Benson's pockets. It's the sweetest of sweetheart deals for Benson, and because it's a contract with the state, he's in no hurry to renegotiate. Kudos to Governor Kathleen Blanco for making attempts in vain to help the state's citizens from sacrificing much-needed money, but Benson's announcement today that he has cut off negotiations with Blanco says far more than its text.

It sends a message that he will milk that deal for all it's worth, then either sell the team for a tremendous profit (he paid $70M for it in the mid-1980s, and can stand to make over $900M in a sale), or let the NFL pay the state-imposed penalty after next season and get the team to Los Angeles.

In either case, it's the most viable option for the NFL to achieve its ultimate goal of having a franchise located in Los Angeles. And, after today, it's painfully clear now more than ever that Benson will take full advantage of his situation before leaving the state in the lurch.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

The upcoming Athlon SEC preview for the Baton Rouge area. By next January, RSO believes the entire college football nation will be looking up at LSU. Posted by Hello

Is it football season yet?

I think it's only fitting to allow my first full post, and semi-introduction, to focus on one of the best things about living in Louisiana - sports. We love to have fun, we love to eat, we love to drink, and we love our sports. Especially football. (These all help console us from our political predicament, which will be the subject of other postings.)

So, in that vein, here we are, not quite to May just yet. I'm watching some mostly unexciting NBA playoff basketball (Game 2 between Chicago and Washington), and tuned in earlier to an equally uninspiring baseball matchup between the Yankees and the "Don't Call Us Anaheim" Los Angeles Angels ("Oh Yeah, We Still Play in Anaheim, So...") of Anaheim.

I'm sure the NBA postseason will get better, especially if my lifelong favorite franchise (Detroit Pistons) wins its fourth title. But the first round is full of mediocre play, and the truly best teams won't get challenged by one another for a couple of weeks. Nothing to get too overly excited about, at least not until these initial series approach elimination status.

As for baseball, for crying out loud, can the season be any longer? For once - and this is rare - I was genuinely excited for the start of the season. I watched Dmitri Young blast his three homers for Detroit on opening day (no, I'm not a Tigers fan), and had a good time seeing the first Yankees-Red Sox mini-war. (There is no greater rivalry in all of sports, even if it's not football.) But when they stop, and the season starts its looooooooonnnnng grind to the All-Star break, let's face facts - it's just not that fun over the first, say, 80 games of 162.

My point to all of this is that I never, EVER, feel this way during football season. Ever. And I get the feeling a majority of big-time sports fans feel the same way. Instead of the above, give me the NFL Draft, which this year had the best TV ratings in its history. And it wasn't even a star-laden draft. Give me the tens of overpriced preseason magazines, stocked full with the detailed team breakdowns, the prognosticators, their fearless predictions, and the annual inevitable Dr. Z laugher of a Super Bowl pick in Sports Illustrated. Give me the freaking preseason, where pointless games draw bigger audiences than meaningful ones in the NBA and MLB. Give me the best, most popular fantasy draft and season (I refuse to call it "rotisserie" - that, my friends, should be reserved solely for roasted chicken).

It's all a stairway to heaven, otherwise known as a six-month ecstasy of Saturdays from college sites (especially for those of us blessed enough to live within short distance of the greatness that is Tiger Stadium) and Sundays and Mondays from the NATIONAL FOOTBALL LEAGUE. It sucks you in, and you can never get enough. And it all ends with the greatest sporting event of all, the aptly named SUPER BOWL, which in a way is like Zion in the Matrix trilogy before the computer invasion - a colossal, overly gratuitous party where everyone enjoys the moment as much as possible, but when it's all over, the outlook just isn't that peachy. That is, you wake up after the Super Bowl and recognize that you will be without your weekly fix for a very long time. It's the most jarring Monday morning of the year. And you use basketball (thank God for March Madness, which I can enjoy as a long-time UConn fan - I'll explain that oddity at some point) and baseball to get you through the withdrawal.

With all that in mind, I am thankful that the countdown to kickoff of the first preseason game is less than three months away. Having perused the LSU message boards (Yes, of course, I am a die-hard Tiger fan), I have seen that I am not alone. Posted on those boards are (a) the first Athlon college football magazine cover for LSU (see photo above), (b) the first Ivan Maisel preseason poll (proving once again that he apparently has a genuine vendetta against LSU), (c) the first ESPN experts preseason polls all matched up (I've always liked Mark May), and (d) the ongoing discussions of concern over progress with Tiger Stadium's west upper deck reconstruction forcing LSU to play its first couple of games in the Superdome in New Orleans (which is a ridiculous rumor and will not happen).

As the caption to the above photo states, I am of the sincere belief that LSU will win the 2005 national championship. Yep. That's right. I said it. I typed it. I posted it. And I am not Dr. Z, so don't get too worried. LSU will run the table and win the Rose Bowl next January - hopefully over USC. I'll go into a lot more detail in the near future on why I think the Tigers will be hoisting another crystal football in eight months or so, but that's obviously a whole other posting.

Bottom line: There are two seasons - football season, and waiting for football season. The latter is about to kick into full "anxiously awaiting kickoff" gear. And that, friends, is better than feigning excitement over early NBA playoff games and pointless hundreds of baseball games. Just stay patient, enjoy basketball and baseball for what they are, and football season will be here before you know it.

(At least that's what I keep telling myself.)