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THE NFL / 1996 | BILL PLASCHKE

Coliseum Is Wrong Message for NFL

August 31, 1996|Bill Plaschke

For the sake of those fretting about a second consecutive NFL season without pro football in Los Angeles, there is a message that needs delivering.

It is a message to this city's elected officials and businessmen who have recently teamed to support the Coliseum and push for the sport's return there.

It is a message to those civic leaders traveling to New Orleans next month to convince NFL owners that football belongs in the league's most historic venue.

It is a message to all those Los Angeles patriots suddenly willing to rebuild and renovate and resurrect our pro football hopes.

It is this:

Shut up and get out of the way.

The NFL will absolutely not return to the Coliseum, and the longer you people thump your chest, the longer the city must wait for the arrival of an expansion team to play in a stadium owned by investors such as Peter O'Malley, or the duo of Lod Cook and Sheldon Ausman.

The people taking an uninformed leap toward restoring football here--from the mayor to councilmen to county officials--are the same people who are keeping it away.

Their attempts to become civic cornerstones are turning them into road blocks.

They are well intentioned, but misguided.

When O'Malley initially spoke about football during the first week of last season, it was thought that a team could be here by 1998.

Now that O'Malley has grown quiet? The most reasonable date is never.

The NFL has no plans, no intentions, and not even any space in its annual Record & Fact Book for Los Angeles.

Unlike Cleveland, where the Browns still have two pages in the book, listing team coaching history and records and the note that there will be football there in 1999.

In Los Angeles, the Coliseum has become the giant weed that is choking all potential forms of football life.

It's as simple as a handoff . . . but just as tricky.

Truth 1: The NFL means what it says. In January it said it would not return to the Coliseum. Despite recent city-spawned rhetoric from a number of supposedly informed "sources," there is nothing that will change their minds.

Truth 2: O'Malley or others will not build without the support of those supporting the Coliseum.

Nobody in this town wants to step on the toes of history or friendly bureaucrats. O'Malley has decided that he cannot afford an NFL franchise worth millions at the cost of his reputation.

The Dodger owner hears the word, Coliseum, he ducks. And peeking between his fingers, he sees another season sprint past.

So officials now say the Coliseum will be "totally revamped?"

The league believes it must be totally gutted, which could never happen under the current historical restrictions.

So officials talk of unified government forces?

The league doesn't want any part of a Coliseum Commission that let the Raiders walk, and will be distrusting of any similar replacement.

Then there is the neighborhood. Bad experiences with the Raiders have made owners afraid to put a team in that part of town.

The league, whose teams are made up of players from neighborhoods like that, will never admit it. But it doesn't have to.

Look at what is considered the NFL's public report card on the state of its franchises--the number of appearances on "Monday Night Football."

The league doles them out like rewards. A Monday night date means a young team has arrived. A Monday night snub means an aging franchise should rebuild.

The Raiders appeared on Monday night 22 times during their 13 years in Los Angeles.

But only four of those appearances were at the Coliseum.

And not once in their last nine years did the Raiders play a Monday night game there.

Certainly, in the latter seasons, the league was worried that small crowds would cause a Monday night blackout in the nation's second-largest TV market.

But mostly, other owners simply didn't want to drive through the neighborhood after dark.

"Sometimes people speak in coded language," said Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas, who represents Exposition Park. "If [the NFL] is peddling fear, it's unwarranted."

Ridley-Thomas is an inspired neighborhood fighter who, in forming the Coliseum fan club, believes the issue is about more than sports.

"Where is your emphasis . . . on football or Los Angeles?" he said. "If you can land two for the price of one, that makes all the sense in the world to do that."

But travel to Charlotte this weekend for the block parties surrounding the opening of the Panthers' new downtown NFL stadium. One would realize that with pro football, there is community.

You don't need to know that the average Monday night game attracts more TV viewers than this year's Summer Olympics to realize, the NFL has become our national pastime.

To keep a team away because you want to use it to save a neighborhood is pretty silly.

Allow a team to return to a place where it is best suited--Chavez Ravine comes to mind--and other parts of the city will become energized all by themselves.

Ridley-Thomas and others are fighting a noble fight, but a losing one.

And as they lose, so will the city.

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