Thoughts on the Saints Staying in New Orleans for 2006
I just love "spin."
I don't think I have to go too deep into the way Tom Benson continuously slapped Louisianians in the face in 2005. Before KTMB, you had the "leaked" stories that the Saints were interested in moving to San Antonio. Don't forget that this lease-breaking-loophole crap started well before the hurricane. Then, after the hurricane, it got worse. There was the initial story that Benson was prepared to screw season ticket holders out of refunds. Then the guy who was proving to be the "conscience" of the franchise, Arnold Fielkow, was fired because he was reportedly the "leak" on the ticket story and because he was the force behind making the Saints play some games in Baton Rouge. Numerous stories were then "leaked" that Benson was preparing to negotiate with San Antonio after the season was over. After the first game in Baton Rouge, he attacked a cameraman and told the NFL that he "feared for his life" in Tiger Stadium. Then, about a month ago, this website provided information dealing with how Benson told employees that FEMA and the National Guard told him they couldn't go back to the facility, how Benson was preparing to sue the NFL if it forced him to come back, and so on.
And then the announcement came that the Saints were staying in New Orleans. Here's how the New Orleans Saints official website decribes the announcement:
"It was a whirlwind day for Saints Owner Tom Benson and his franchise on Friday. The long-time owner of the club was at the center of it all as he showed his enthusiasm and energy in making the announcement that the New Orleans Saints would be returning to their Metairie facility in a few short weeks. "
Energy? Enthusiasm? Was I watching excerpts from the same press conference? The guy looked like Paul Tagliabue had a gun in his back. He mumbled the words like a 5-year-old being forced by his parents to tell someone "I'm sorry."
You think I'm exaggerating? Look at what Peter King said in this "Monday Morning Quarterback" passage on si.com:
"I think it's a swell idea, and the right idea, that the Saints are back in New Orleans for the 2006 season. But Tom Benson sure didn't sound like an owner who planned to unpack his bags when he got back inside the New Orleans city limits. For everything that town's done for you, Tom, can't you at least fake it a little better?"
My favorite part of the press conference was when Benson told the audience that he wanted to return to New Orleans, but was forced "at gunpoint" not to return. Maybe the same people who forced him at gunpoint were the same people who were threatening his life in Baton Rouge.
The bottom line is this: The Saints are back in 2006. After that, all bets are off.
Anyone who is paying attention knows that the NFL was the force behind the return of the Saints. All of this is being done against Benson's will. Kenny Wilkerson said the exact same thing Friday night on WDSU. After 2006, I have NO CONFIDENCE WHATSOEVER that the Saints will stay. There are lots of ominous signs. Joe Horn told reporters that at least half the team doesn't want to come back, and I believe him. Our best player, LeCharles Bentley, can leave as a free agent. There could be a huge turnover in the front office and coaching staff. Many are now assuming that next year will be another terrible rebuilding year, since we will probably be led by rookie QB Matt Leinart. And it's not even known yet how many season ticket holders will renew next year after the way Benson treated them. God knows there won't be a huge line of new ticketholders.
I have plenty of time to change my mind between now and the beginning of the 2006 season, but right now, I think it's going to be ugly.