Dazed & Confused

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, February 14, 2001


Saints’ glory days may be history as football team marches away

So…that didn’t take long, did it? While I usually let my colleagues in the sports editorial department express their views on the sporting world, I feel this whole issue concerning the Saints possibly moving deserves a bit of attention. So in my own unique way, I thought I’d express my opinion concerning this issue. I think the whole thing stinks. The Saints just finished the best season in their long and mostly not illustrious history. They won 10 of their 16 games and clinched the Western Division by beating all their division opponents twice, only missing a clean sweep by splitting with the world champion Rams. They then justified their championship title by beating the Rams handily in the first round of the playoffs. They not only advanced to the second round of the playoffs, but they eliminated the Rams altogether, much to the appreciation of numerous other teams who didn’t want to face the powerhouse Rams. They lost in the second round but, never mind. My sweatshirt still says “NFC WEST CHAMPIONS 2000.” It was a euphoric n if unlikely n season. This team, under new coach Jim Haslett, played a bunch of second-stringers right into the history books. And Haslett was most deservedly awarded Coach of the Year honors. Those of us who are diehard, year after year, Saints fans were almost giddy with joy over the unexpected success of the team. The regular readers of this column n both of you n know that I’ve been one of the cheerleaders for this team all along. A somewhat homely one, but, there it is. I felt my faith and the faith all the others who stuck by the team season after dismal season was justified, and we were able to point at all the former detractors and give them a sound “I told you so”. But then, the unexpected. The euphoria barely had time to peak and with the sweat not yet even dry on the team’s uniforms, the Saints announced that they were unhappy with the present contract at the Superdome. Suddenly the spectre of New Orleans losing our team was raised. Rumors began to swirl. San Antonio was interested. The Mississippi Gulf Coast was interested. And I strongly suspect that with a winning team to offer and the sudden prospect of mucho dinero dancing in his head, Tom Benson was interested, indeed. The Saints organization began to bemoan the fact that New Orleans is a small football market, roughly comparable to Buffalo, and that the profitability just isn’t what it should be. The organization only profits a few million a month and larger markets, Dallas, Miami, San Francisco, and so on, make many times that. They want more concessions from the state to insure more profit, and now they are dangling the threat of a move as a way to get what they want. OK. I have no problem with the organization wanting to make more money, but I have some questions. How much is enough? No matter what concessions the state makes, at what point will the organization be satisfied and the fans not have to worry about the team leaving? When, at what point, will the legitimate desire for a profit slip from legitimate and into the realm of just plain greed? At this point the Saints organization has the tactical high ground. Louisiana in general – and New Orleans in particular – have managed, through a keen sense of business that would have appalled Spanky and Alfafa and made them move their lemonade stand out of state, to keep most big businesses, Fortune 500 types, completely away. They’ve even managed to do the nearly impossible with the casino industry, and that’s to make it so unprofitable that Harrah’s is threatening bankruptcy. Way to go, guys. That was a tough one, but you managed. So, if the Saints pull out, there goes one of the last genuine cash cows for the New Orleans area. The city would be reduced to a bush-league city without the Saints. No more Superbowls and the accompanying national attention, for one thing. The Superdome may as well become a covered parking lot for all the revenue it would generate without the team. And Benson, being no fool, knows it. He’s keenly aware that he holds a winning hand. Give me what I want, or I’ll take this team elsewhere. Hopefully he’ll get most of what he wants and the team will stay. I hope so, anyway. But if he doesn’t, and Benson decides to boogie with the team, he should look at Art Modell first. Modell was the owner of the beloved Cleveland Browns. He wanted stuff, too. When he didn’t get what he wanted, he moved the team. He’s now the most hated man in Cleveland history. He can’t even go back to the city without bodyguards. I don’t think any of Benson’s other businesses here would thrive if he took the Saints away. Of course, if he made mega-millions on the deal, it really wouldn’t matter, would it? To him, anyway. Like I said…how much is enough. LEE DRESSELHAUS writes this column every Wednesday for L’Observateur.