Stadium Games

The millionaires who operate Staples Center tried the back door, attending league meetings to win assurances of a team and possible Super Bowl dates, but they dropped out at the first sign of public opposition.

The board of the L.A Memorial Coliseum tried the front door, announcing plans to spend a million dollars touting the historic stadium as the place to site a new team. But the NFL answered with a sneer; Baltimore Ravens owner Art Modell, reviled in Cleveland for hijacking the beloved Browns, termed the stadium ”an old hooker.“

Last Friday, the City Council took its best shot, appointing an ad-hoc committee to see what it might do to lure the NFL. But despite a 9-1 vote in favor, the council divided on what approach to take, and why.

Councilman Jack Weiss, the sole vote against the measure, tempered the debate when he warned, ”I don‘t think we should set the wheels of government in motion to help the NFL pick our pockets.

“Let’s face it, that‘s what the NFL is good at -- they’re good at bleeding cities dry,” Weiss said.

Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas said he shared the same concerns, but that made creation of a committee the “prudent” thing to do. “Many cities across the country have been twisted by the NFL because they were not ready.”

Councilman Ed Reyes, whose district touches Staples Center on the east, said he‘d build a stadium without even bothering to wait for the league. Reyes proposed a multipurpose stadium that could be converted to football, baseball or international soccer. “Let us set the table ourselves,” Reyes intoned.

If Reyes seemed a bit naive, Councilman Nate Holden could only be called jaded. Holden, who’s been on hand to see the departure of the Rams and then the Raiders, agreed to vote for the new committee, but predicted it would do “nothing” to bring the NFL back. “This motion is not worth the paper it‘s written on,” Holden declared.

Holden said his ideal site remains the Coliseum, home to two Olympics and to the Raiders before they left town for a sweet deal in Oakland, a second-time-around romance that has since soured.

For its part, the NFL continues to send mixed signals. Asked at recent league meetings if the Coliseum were a viable site, commissioner Paul Tagliabue said simply, “No.” Yet it was just three years back that Tagliabue stood at the gates of the Coliseum to announce the birth of a new franchise -- a team soon transported to Texas. Finally, last week, the league sent yet anotheramessage, this through spokesman Greg Aiello: “The NFL has no official position on the Coliseum.”

Pat Lynch, general manager at the Coliseum, said uncertainty is just part of the package when dealing with the NFL. A suitor must deal separately with individual teams and with officials from the league. Even then, Lynch notes, “There are no guarantees,” because any deal must win final approval from a majority of the owners.

The council elected to make the first move, establishing its committee and directing redevelopment staff to study the feasibility of a number of potential sites. All of which Weiss regarded as an invitation to trouble. “This is not good public policy,” Weiss said of the directive to research stadium sites. “You want to have a discussion about football? Come over to my house on Sundays in October, and we’ll have plenty of discussions about football.”


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