NFL: Saints likely in S.A. in '06
Web Posted: 12/06/2005 12:00 AM CST
San Antonio Express-News
NEW ORLEANS — In the strongest indication yet that San Antonio's NFL flirtation will be more than just a three-game dance, league commissioner Paul Tagliabue on Monday said there is a "likelihood" that a portion of the New Orleans Saints' 2006 schedule would be played at the Alamodome.
While stressing the NFL's commitment to Louisiana and reasserting the league's hopes to play at least some games in New Orleans next year, Tagliabue said his visit to the hurricane-ravaged city Monday led him to believe "there's going to have to be a split schedule" for the Saints in 2006.
And once again, San Antonio can expect to be part of it.
"I would think the likelihood is there will be some games in San Antonio in '06," Tagliabue said after touring several neighborhoods, inspecting the Saints' facilities and meeting with the region's political and business leaders. "Based on what we heard today, it would be hard to anticipate enough games in the Superdome such that it would be possible to play the entire schedule in Louisiana."
Tagliabue said league officials have begun drawing up scheduling proposals that include Saints' home games at the Louisiana Superdome in New Orleans, LSU's Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge and the Alamodome.
Because Tagliabue previously had made comments questioning San Antonio's viability as an NFL market and never seemed thrilled about the city hosting games even on a temporary basis, local leaders were pleased to hear him softening his stance.
"This is the exact position we anticipated the commissioner to take," said Christian Archer, mayor Phil Hardberger's chief assistant, "and we look forward to continuing to host a team that doesn't have a home."
Archer reiterated that Hardberger plans to negotiate with Saints owner Tom Benson at the end of this season for the permanent relocation of the Saints to San Antonio.
"Nothing's changed," Archer said. "The Saints are going to look at New Orleans and the condition of the Superdome and come to the same conclusion that the commissioner did, and that is that there will be a lot of games played in San Antonio next season."
Whether there will be "a lot of games" is yet to be determined.
The Superdome suffered extensive damage during and after Hurricane Katrina, but some officials have projected it can be repaired by November. This season, the league moved four of the Saints' home games to Tiger Stadium and three — the first regular-season NFL games played in San Antonio — to the Alamodome.
The two games already played at the Alamodome were well attended, drawing an average crowd of 62,125. Tiger Stadium has averaged 42,897 in its three games, although those contests were played after the Saints' 3-9 season already had begun to go south.
Tagliabue apparently isn't putting too much stock into the difference in attendance. He said the games at LSU this season "don't tell us much" and added that the league "will have more luxury in Baton Rouge to plan properly" in 2006.
"Next year will be a lot different from this year," Tagliabue said. "Because this year, the suddenness of Katrina and the suddenness of the natural disaster and the human tragedy that ensued in the aftermath of Katrina put everyone in an inflexible situation."
But even though next season figures to be a bit less hectic, Tagliabue is advocating the very idea the Saints players and coaches have complained about the most — a split schedule.
A vast majority of team members have said they want to play their games in the same city where they live and practice. The Saints have been based in San Antonio for three months, and Tagliabue said a decision about whether to move their headquarters back to New Orleans would be made by January.
The Saints' multimillion-dollar practice facility — which was used by FEMA as a staging area after Katrina — is waiting for them if they want. Tagliabue visited the site Monday and proclaimed it to be in "first-class condition" but said he wasn't sure if the Saints would return there after this season.
Benson, who has been vilified in Louisiana for his perceived overtures to San Antonio, accompanied Tagliabue on his Monday tour but did not speak to the media.
Eddie Jones, a former Saints business manager and recently retired president of the Miami Dolphins who was named by Tagliabue on Monday as his "communications liaison" to New Orleans, said Benson was upbeat during Monday's meetings.
"He was very conciliatory," Jones said. "He gave every appearance of wanting to be here for a long time."
But even Tagliabue conceded that with so much uncertainty about the future of New Orleans as a city, it's almost impossible to make long-term plans.
"We want to be part of the recovery and rebuilding process, but we want to fit within the proper order of priorities," he said. "One of the things that was made clear in talking to all of the people we met is that it's too early to tell what 2007 will hold."