The Jeffersonian: Politicks, Sports, and Culture

Thursday, October 27, 2005

USA Today: Hardberger Now The Anti-Christ

Castro-nistas could've told you this months ago USA Today:

Paul Tagliabue cannot allow one of his owners, Tom Benson, to use a great American tragedy as his ticket to ride. This isn't a fleeting commissioner's concern. This isn't David Stern fighting to get his NBA players out of throwback jerseys and into sport coats.The defining moral crisis in the NFL has nothing to do with two boats of Vikings sailing the always active waters of jock entitlement. Lake Minnetonka is not even a ripple in the ocean of sleaze that threatens to sweep the New Orleans Saints from a city of fractured levees and broken hearts, a city that should not be left to beg for the mercy of businessmen not inclined to give it.

This is Tagliabue's legacy sinking or swimming in the vortex of a biblical flood.

If Tagliabue lets Benson's Saints abandon New Orleans for San Antonio, Los Angeles or Anywhere, USA, Tagliabue will make Pete Rozelle's decision to play football after President Kennedy's murder seem like a stroke of genius.

First, this isn't Tagliabue's legacy. Tags' legacy is the salary cap, almost destroying the Dynasty tag line and making it possible for nearly every team in the league to have a 2-3 year window of opportunity to win the Super Bowl.

Second, well, read this first:

Though Benson hasn't said he's splitting for sure, he's done nothing to dismiss the belief he's as good as gone. Benson fired an executive who was all for staying put. Benson released a statement saying the Saints' future would be settled at season's end, but he'd already been unmasked by San Antonio's mayor, Phil Hardberger, the vulture circling over the thrashed Superdome shell.

Like Benson, Hardberger lives in a house with no mirrors. Either that or the dog ate his conscience. Once the gracious host with the most to offer an orphaned franchise, Hardberger is pursuing a forever commitment from the Saints with Barry Switzer zeal. His recruiting pitch?

Forget Katrina. Remember the Alamodome.

How charming that one American city is so quick to prey on the vulnerabilities of another. Sure, many New Orleans businesses faced with grim, post-Katrina reality have, or will, leave town. But the Saints are different. They represent a public trust.

This is one of the more frustrating parts about sportswriting. The lack of historical perspective, the hyperbole, no fact checking, etc. The Saints don't represent a public trust. If there's any team that is a public trust, it would have to be the Green Bay Packers. Namely because they are owned by the public. The Saints, like every other sports franchise, are a business. If they stay in New Orleans, they will hemorrhage money over the next several years. It doesn't matter who owns them. If Tags doesn't allow the Saints to leave, they will fold.

What's the alternative- spending federal dollars to subsidize the Saints' stay in New Orleans? Yeah that's the way to spend the rebuilding money. Or will Tags try to strong arm the other owners into giving up some portion of their television money to help Benson out? Any likelihood of that happening?

The writer also speaks of Irsay and Modell further on down the column. About how their betrayals* will pale in comparison to Benson's. Of course the columnist fails to point out that the city of Baltimore, years after losing their beloved Colts to Indianapolis picked the Browns-cum-Ravens from Cleveland without a bat of an eyelash.

Which leads us to the New Orleans as vulture comparison. Where was this outrage when New Orleans 'inquired' about the possibility of the Spurs leaving San Antonio immediately following their 1999 championship? A poll a few years back showed San Antonio as being the city most loyal to its sports franchise (moreso than say the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox, the Green Bay Packers, and yes, even the New Orleans Saints). Loyalty didn't mean much to them then. Nor did it mean much to the leaders of New Orleans when they poached the Hornets from Charlotte, after their citizens failed to approve public financing for Donald Shinn's new arena.

Where was this outrage in May when Benson- once more- began his overtures to San Antonio?

It was nowhere to be found, that's where it was.

* The Irsay family in the 1980s, literally, packed up the Colts franchise in the middle of the night and moved it from Baltimore to Indianapolis. Art Modell, after losing his bid for another stadium in Cleveland, packed up his team and moved them to Baltimore. A few years later Modell won the Super Bowl.