Thursday, September 08, 2005

Thanks For Nothing


Thanks For Nothing

NFL isn't doing Saints any favors with new schedule

Posted: Wednesday September 7, 2005 5:50PM; Updated: Wednesday September 7, 2005 5:50PM

There is no real road map for where the New Orleans Saints must venture this year. No blueprint. No precedent. No easy to follow signs. To be certain, no matter which way the 2005 season goes for the Saints, there will be a make-it-up-as-they-go-along feel to everything they do.

But already, very early on in their journey, a wrong turn has been taken and a bad decision has been made. And the NFL is to blame.

In opting to send the Saints to Giants Stadium in Week 2 to play what would have been their home opener at the Superdome, the powers that be in the league have done them a disservice.

There will be no true "home'' field for the Saints this season, but they should be as close to home as humanly possible that week, playing the Giants at a neutral site such as LSU's Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge, Alabama's Legion Field in Birmingham, Houston's Reliant Stadium or San Antonio's Alamodome.

Not in their opponent's stadium, where they will be at a competitive disadvantage.

Are neutral site games for the Saints a great alternative for the situation they find themselves in? No. But having already been displaced by Hurricane Katrina, the Saints should be allowed to at least take a half step toward making an unworkable situation more palatable, giving them a semblance of a fighting chance this season.

Make no mistake, we're talking about football and the inconvenience that a football team faces this season in the aftermath of a national tragedy. Of course the Saints' plight pales in comparison to the losses suffered by the thousands who were in Katrina's path. No one is remotely equating the two.

But the Saints' situation deserves to be dealt with equitably as possible. And playing "home'' games against a stadium's fulltime tenet flies in the face of fairness.

I don't blame Saints head coach Jim Haslett for discussing the elephant in the room in recent days, openly questioning how a trip to the Meadowlands in Week 2 helps his team keep its season as viable as possible amid the turmoil the storm wrought. He's a football coach first and foremost. That's his job, and he's trying to do it. Can we fault him for not wanting to see his club turned into the NFL's version of the Washington Generals, an itinerant team that never plays on a level field?

The Saints have made it clear they want to play their home games this season at LSU. The league wanted the Giants game in New Jersey. Guess who won out?

If you're Haslett, whose job security was a season-long issue last year, you're now coaching a pretty talented team facing a formidable task to start its 2005 schedule. This week, you open the season at Carolina, which is being picked by many to go to the Super Bowl. Then eight days later, you face the Giants on Monday night, in a stadium that will undoubtedly have more folks rooting against you than for you.

On short-week rest, you will then have to get your players ready for another tough assignment, a trip to Minnesota in Week 3, where the Vikings also have generated preseason Super Bowl buzz. By the time you have a "home'' game in Week 4 against Buffalo, wherever that might be, your team will have gone from a  preseason game against Baltimore on Aug. 26 to Oct. 2 -- a span of more than five weeks -- without playing before a friendly crowd.

Good luck, Saints. We're all pulling for you.

In making its decision, the NFL at least partly acted for honorable reasons, in that it wants the Sept. 19 Monday night game to serve the purpose of shining a national spotlight on the cause of hurricane relief for New Orleans and the entire Gulf Coast region. In the city's largest media market, no less.

That's a commendable gesture, but it's not as if it's the lynchpin of the nation's relief and recovery fund-raising efforts. And don't think for a minute that the league wasn't also concerned with whether the Saints would be able to sell out a venue like the 65,000 Alamodome or the 92,000 Tiger Stadium on short notice. Box office is always important in the NFL, and to pretend it isn't is naïve.

The league office knew that it could count on Giants fans, bestowed a wholly unexpected ninth home game, to snap up any and all available seats after Saints season-ticket holders had the first shot at them. At LSU, San Antonio, Houston, Birmingham or any other neutral site, there was no sure sellout to bank on.

And so the Saints will pack their gear and head for New Jersey in Week 2, making another stop on what likely will become the longest road trip in NFL history. The only thing is, their trip that week didn't have to be quite so long.

But as they have on more than one front of late, the Saints again came up on the short end when that decision was made.

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