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Unfortunate decision: Saints never should have been sent to New York

On Football

Posted: Friday, September 23, 2005

The New Orleans Saints might have lost to the New York Giants in New Orleans if there had never been a Hurricane Katrina. Or they might have lost in San Antonio or Baton Rouge or some neutral site if the NFL decided to play the game somewhere other than the Meadowlands.

But moving the Saints’ ‘‘home opener’’ to the home of their opponent was flat wrong, in part a result of the Northeast bias that permeates sports leagues and sports media. As someone asked when the decision was first made: ‘‘Would the NFL have switched the game to Cincinnati if the Saints were scheduled to play the Bengals?’’

The answer is NO.

Yes, the NFL is happy that the Monday night doubleheader earned $5 million for Katrina relief. But was that because the game was played at Giants Stadium? It could have been played anywhere and thousands of people still would have called the toll-free number that ran across the bottom of the screen, pledging their money to nameless operators or Hall of Fame football players.

No, the Saints won’t really have a home game this year. Even their games in Baton Rouge, where they at least will have their fans, will require travel, something they’ve been doing for nearly a month.

That’s not the fault of the NFL, which can do a lot of things but is as helpless as anyone else in the face of a natural disaster. What is the fault of the NFL was putting them into a hostile environment at the worst possible time.

The Saints left New Orleans before the Aug. 29 hurricane and have since been to San Jose, Calif., Oakland, San Antonio, Charlotte, San Antonio, East Rutherford, N.J., and back to San Antonio. As offensive tackle Wayne Gandy put it after their upset win in Carolina: ‘‘from Marriott to Marriott to Marriott.’’

For the first two weeks, when they were practicing on high school fields and working out in commercial gyms next to bodybuilders and soccer moms, they seemed to block out the reality of their plight, channeling it in many cases to working with hurricane victims far less fortunate than they are.

But when they finally settled into San Antonio to prepare for the Giants, the numbness seemed to wear off and the difficulty of their nomadic life settled in. The physical and mental strain of worrying about loved ones and of finding homes, schools, food and transportation surely took its toll against the Giants — in the form of six turnovers if nothing else.

In typical coachspeak, Jim Haslett blamed the loss on his team’s errors and the superior play of the opponent.

But he also pointed out the farce of calling it a ‘‘home’’ game. So what if one end zone had ‘‘Saints’’ painted in it and the Giants had to wear white? The Giants dressed in their spacious locker room, while the Saints were confined to cramped visitors space and had to play before a loud pro-Giants crowd.

‘‘To play it in Giants Stadium, to give them another home game and to put us in a situation where we couldn’t hear,’’ Haslett noted. ‘‘It wasn’t why we lost that game, but ...’’

The league’s rationale was that it wanted to stay out of the way of Katrina rescue efforts in Louisiana and Texas. OK, that’s fine, but there are other large stadiums in the 1,839 miles between San Antonio and New York that could have accommodated the game.

The NFL office is in New York, where it’s easy to assume the assembled networks, etc., will give its activities the most possible exposure. The assumption was well intentioned, the belief that all that media would produce more for Katrina relief.

But the New York media and the very important media outlet 100 miles or so away in Bristol, Conn., often have their own parochial agendas. The folks in Bristol, for example, seem to think the only two baseball teams that matter are the Yankees and Red Sox, and the only NFL player worth talking about is Terrell Owens.

And they’re not the only ones.

The Saints knew what was going on.

‘‘They made this seem like the Super Bowl,’’ quarterback Aaron Brooks said after the game. ‘‘We played a team that outplayed us today, but it was way overdone. Setting up a stage, traveling out here, was uncalled for.

‘‘Try not to patronize us next time, traveling us to New York, saying we’re playing a home game.’’

The NFL is still patronizing them — the official standings give the Giants a 1-0 road record and the Saints an 0-1 home record, hardly the competitive balance the NFL is so proud of.

So here’s a suggestion for equalizing it.

In the unlikely event the Giants and Saints finish in a two-way tie for a wild-card playoff spot, wipe out the first tiebreaker, which would go to New York for winning their head-to-head meeting. Just go on to the next, conference record or whatever.

The Saints already are at an unfair disadvantage due to circumstances beyond their control. This might add just a touch of fairness.

DIRTY DOZEN

The top six and bottom six teams based on current level of play:

1. Pittsburgh (2-0). Let’s see what happens to the Ben-Willie offense against the Patriots this week.

2. Indianapolis (2-0). Sometimes winning the hard way helps.

3. Philadelphia (1-1). Donovan and T.O. even sat together in the trainers’ room this week.

4. New England (1-1). Some weaknesses are showing, but a win in Pittsburgh would get things on track.

5. Jacksonville (1-1), If there’s such a thing as a good loss, the Jags had one in Indy. But Donovin Darius’ injury could cost them.

6. Kansas City (2-0). If the Chiefs can win in Denver ...

27. Baltimore (0-2). It’s more than just the quarterbacking — or lack of it.

28. Arizona (0-2). Back to its accustomed spot.

29. Minnesota (0-2). Probably should be lower.

30. San Francisco (1-1). The Niners have their win.

31. Houston (0-2). Heads starting to roll.

32. Green Bay (0-2). A very quick fall.



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