I see the day when City Councilman Joel Wachs is dressed in black and gold from head to toe, standing before his brethren in City Hall, proclaiming it “Los Angeles Saints Day.” He’s telling reporters, “There’s nothing like pro sports to bring a city together,” the people in New Orleans be damned. And one more thing, Wachs will say, “Anyone got any extra Super Bowl tickets?”
Mayor Xavier Becerra will then hand the keys of the city to an Art Modell-like carpetbagger, while proclaiming the Monday after the Super Bowl a free day for all L.A. schoolkids.
I’m predicting it right now: The time is coming when every one of you who has said that L.A. does not need the NFL, that L.A. does not miss the NFL, that L.A. never will spend a dime of public money on the NFL, will collapse under the pressure of championship fever and act like a football goof again.
IT HAPPENED MONDAY in Baltimore, the city that refused to spend a dime of public money to build Bob Irsay a new stadium, driving him to leave in the middle of the night for Indianapolis . . . a city left empty on two different occasions by the frustrating NFL expansion process and then emotionally disturbed after stealing a team from Cleveland.
And now, the area schools celebrate Raven days. The night-lights shine purple on the city’s tallest buildings. The mayor attends the team’s practices. The statues in City Hall are dressed in purple jerseys. People are walking around with “Dilfer” and “Lewis” embroidered across the shirts on their backs.
Monday nearly 50,000 people, many who once called themselves die-hard Colts’ fans, filled the streets to support their Ravens as they left for Tampa.
“You’re not going to find anyone on the streets of Baltimore today that’s going to tell you it wasn’t a great investment they made in bringing football back to this city,” said John Moag, who brokered the controversial deal to steal the Browns. “This is like the greatest day I have ever had in my life--all these people in downtown Baltimore all going freakin’ nuts and just having a ball because of their football team.”
I know, you’ll never submit like this--just like Johnny Unitas, who kept his distance and rejected the notion of any team replacing his beloved Colts when the Ravens came to town. Now, he walks the sideline with the team.
You’re going to surrender. You just don’t know yet when, and on what terms.
“We had someone from the legislature in Montgomery County, who was the chief opponent to building a new stadium in Baltimore, appearing the other day on the floor of the senate in full Ravens’ regalia,” Moag said.
And Moag, who still is in the franchise-moving business, says: “Absolutely, no question about it, football will be back in L.A., and the people there will go freakin’ nuts, just like they are now in Baltimore.”
ON JULY 1, L.A. will have a new mayor, one who may be able to identify a football without an advisor whispering into his or her ear, although based on conversations with campaign representatives for Kathleen Connell and James K. Hahn, these two might be unable to repeat their own names without a prepared statement.
I’m told there are 24 people running for mayor, but six who have the best chance of scoring votes on April 10. I called all six, and although four chose to talk enthusiastically about their football plans, Connell and Hahn hid behind blockers--afraid, no doubt, that I might trick them, and ask who is playing Sunday.
Becerra was the most aggressive, by far, in his desire and his plan of attack for bringing the NFL back to L.A., suggesting he would be open to spending public money if he could be “guaranteed” a return on the city’s investment.
I’m guessing 10 seconds after the NFL reads the previous sentence, a sizable contribution to the “Becerra for Mayor” campaign will be wired to L.A.
“We’re going to have a Super Bowl here and a team, and I guarantee that in less than eight years,” Becerra said. “It’s just a matter of time, and while it can’t be done on the taxpayers’ dime, we’ve got to be creative in spending money and be assured it would be paid back immediately.”
Wachs and Antonio Villaraigosa also want the return of the NFL and pledged help to make it happen, but I believe Trent Dilfer has a better shot of earning Hall of Fame acclaim than the NFL has of getting even a cup of coffee out of these guys. They can point to the Olympics, the Disney Concert Hall and Staples Center, and make the case the NFL eventually will blink.
The NFL voice of experience, however, belongs to Steve Soboroff, who also was the initial driving force behind the Staples Center project. Soboroff, however, does not hold out much hope for the NFL’s return in the city limits.
“Now maybe if someone had the same vision as the Staples Center, and land can be provided and the NFL or new owner pays all the bills and there’s no impact on the taxpayer, that would be fine,” Soboroff said. “But as long as there are other NFL teams needing new stadiums and public money, the NFL is not going to establish a precedent in coming to L.A. without a subsidy.”
There’s nothing more boring, of course, than talking to politicians--save watching a Super Bowl with the Giants and Ravens--but you’d have to call it forward progress, listening to these four pro-minded candidates.
The NFL is coming back to L.A., and an interested mayor could play a pivotal role in making it happen.
Owners in San Francisco, San Diego, Minnesota, New Orleans and Oakland are not happy with their stadium situations, and it will serve all their purposes if one of them darts to L.A., makes nice with the area’s politicians and puts together a creative financial deal resulting in a new stadium.
When Modell pulled out of Cleveland, it allowed owners in Philadelphia, Arizona, Denver, Detroit, New England and Tampa to imply they might do the same, which provided the leverage to win new stadium deals.
The NFL needs another Modell to go for the money, and it’s really just a matter of time to see what colors you will have to paint your faces.
TODAY’S LAST WORD comes in an e-mail from Tabitha:
“A local adult message board posted your column. I want to apologize for our city making things uneasy in choosing what you do with your personal time. I am currently working at the Ybor Strip Club and hope you will stop by.”
Did the message board indicate that my wife is already not talking to me?
T.J. Simers can be reached at his e-mail address:firstname.lastname@example.org.