BATON ROUGE Saints owner Tom Benson has balked at making a firm commitment to keep his team in Louisiana in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.
On Sunday, NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue did it for him.
Making the strongest pledge yet to the storm-ravaged area's weary fans, Tagliabue said the Saints plan to be a part of a rebuilt Louisiana, albeit perhaps as a remodeled franchise that represents the entire state and Gulf Coast region.
"The Saints are Louisiana's team," Tagliabue said before the Saints' 21-6 loss to Miami at LSU's Tiger Stadium, the club's first official visit to Louisiana since the storm devastated the region two months ago. "We're dealing with a rebuilding here, and we're going to make every effort to keep the New Orleans Saints as Louisiana's team."
However, Tagliabue stopped short of making a long-term commitment, saying the recovery of the New Orleans and Gulf Coast regions ultimately will decide the club's future. The projected loss of population and businesses could potentially cripple the city as a professional sports market, he said.
"We have to be realistic and consider not only the facilities issue but the human issue," he said. "It's more about the overall recovery of the area than it is about facilities. We need to realize there's been a tremendous human toll, and for the Saints and NFL to come back in the proper way we need to recognize the human toll and take it into account."
No decision made
The governor said Tagliabue urged Benson not to exercise a force majeure clause in the team's lease for the Superdome in late November that would allow the club to get out of its contract with the state without having to pay an $81 million exit penalty.
"(Tagliabue is) interested in having the Saints extend that drop-dead date to some point beyond that, which would take us past the end of the season," Blanco said. "And that would give everybody a chance to calm down.
"Anytime you have a major trauma or a major loss in your life, you don't make quick decisions because it will inevitably be possibly the wrong decision," Blanco said. "And so he (Tagliabue) is urging that the Saints should back off of their legal ability to demand a decision quickly."
You know, its always the bottom line . . . Benson's a no-good, piece-of-work!