Posted: Friday September 2, 2005 11:10AM; Updated: Friday September 2, 2005 12:05PM
In its place, the league could rebuild a state-of-the-art stadium that could stand as its Taj Mahal. Think of Houston's Reliant Stadium, home of Super Bowl XXXVIII, but with more bells and whistles. Most important, there would be natural grass and a retractable roof, two elements essential to the optimal Super Bowl experience, rain or shine.
Long before Katrina hit, Saints owner Tom Benson had been haggling with state and local government officials over the state of the Superdome. There has been talk of the Saints relocating, perhaps to Los Angeles, a city to which he league is looking to move an existing franchise.
Obviously, building a new stadium could save the Saints for New Orleans -- and, in all likelihood, doom some other existing NFL city (Minneapolis? San Diego? Oakland?) to a future without a team. But it's also possible the Louisiana locals, as they rebound from this disaster, may collectively come to the conclusion the Saints aren't as important to them as they once were. Perhaps this is a stretch, but is it possible that, as the new stadium was being built, the fans would decide they'd be willing to trade the Saints for the promise of becoming the Super Bowl's permanent headquarters?
Either way -- the Saints stay, the Saints go -- the league would be smart to make the new N'Awlins its showcase city.
But don't just take it from me.
"That's really a great idea," one high-ranking team executive said Thursday. "It would be an incredible gesture, and it makes so much sense."
Just as I was taking my right hand off the keyboard to pat myself on the back, the executive added: "Of course, it will never happen."
The executive explained too many owners have designs on staging the game in their own cities to surrender those lucrative possibilities. There's another reason, too: The league likes using future Super Bowls as a carrot to help owners leverage voters in their areas into partly (or totally) financing new stadiums.
Here's how it works. The owner of Franchise A (let's call him 'Tom') says his current stadium is unacceptable and insinuates he'll relocate, or sell to someone who will, if a new one isn't built soon. Many fans react angrily to the perceived blackmail as a ballot measure calling for public financing is introduced. Then, during the campaign, the NFL swoops in to help Tom with an offer to the voters: Approve the measure, and the league will guarantee multiple future Super Bowls, providing an economic boon to the community.
It works almost every time. And if you have any further questions, come find me in Detroit this February.
The only time this formula doesn't apply is for cold-weather cities that don't have dome (or retractable roof) stadiums. The league doesn't want to risk turning its international spectacle into an Ice Bowl.
Yet in the wake of 9/11, serious consideration was given to playing a future Super Bowl in the New York area, and/or in Washington D.C., as a way of helping those two cities in the wake of tragedy.
New Orleans certainly qualifies for similar consideration now, but it's not like playing Super Bowls there is a major sacrifice. Once the Big Easy is up and running, it's the ideal place to stage the game. It has always been the perfect place to hold Super Bowl week, with so many of the key spots (both team hotels, the media center, the stadium, Bourbon Street and the French Quarter at large) in walking distance to one another and enough bars, nightspots, cabs and restaurants to handle the crush of revelers.