With holes in stadium roof, Saints' future up in air

Cost of rebuilding city could lead to team's sale, relocation

Pro Football

September 01, 2005|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,SUN STAFF

It is too early for the New Orleans Saints to know their place in the massive reconstruction of their city after Hurricane Katrina.

But it already may be too late to save them.

Devastated by the loss of life, property and infrastructure, New Orleans faces staggering costs to rebuild itself. The Saints don't figure to fit high in that equation.

Consider that the city had to borrow money the past two years to make its annual payments to the team under the lease negotiated by the previous governor of Louisiana, Mike Foster.

Consider also that the Saints are due another $15 million from the city after this season, $20 million after both the 2006 and 2007 seasons, and more than $70 million in three seasons after that.

And then remember that Saints owner Tom Benson had been seeking a new stadium. Absent that, he grew so frustrated in negotiations with current Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco that he broke off talks in April and only recently attempted to restart them.

Benson has repeatedly said he doesn't want to leave New Orleans. But he also suggested he might have to sell or move the franchise if he can't get more revenue to keep his franchise competitive.

The door to leave is wide-open now. And no one may be able to close it.

The Saints probably won't be able to play in the Superdome this season. Who knows how much damage there is to the dome beyond the two known holes in the roof, and the water damage on the lower levels?

Who knows how long it will take to even address those issues when the city lies in ruins around the stadium?

After playing their final preseason game tonight in Oakland, the Saints will fly to San Antonio to prepare for the Sept. 11 season opener at Carolina. That's where they went to prepare for a Week 2 game when Hurricane Ivan chased them out of New Orleans a year ago. It could be their home away from home.

They could play their home opener Sept. 18 against the New York Giants at the Alamodome in San Antonio, LSU's Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge, La., or Legion Field in Birmingham, Ala.

They could play split home games in Houston, San Antonio and Baton Rouge for that matter.

It's a survival scenario, not a playoff scenario, for a franchise that desperately needed to win this year to assure its solvency.

NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said yesterday that no decisions had been made on the Saints' home schedule, but that the league was exploring options in the event the Superdome was unplayable.

The league's top priority is helping in the relief effort.

"We are focusing on many aspects of the situation, including participation in relief efforts, providing services to players and staff impacted by the tragedy, and the logistical issues of where the Saints will practice and play," Aiello said.

Commissioner Paul Tagliabue announced yesterday that the NFL will donate $1 million to the American Red Cross to assist victims of Katrina in the Gulf Coast region. He also said the league and the teams were working on other initiatives to help in the relief effort.

But saving the Saints may be an impossible task.

Los Angeles beckons, not necessarily with riches, but with a fresh start.

Given their enormous burden, Louisiana and New Orleans may have to give up the NFL as a lost cause.

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