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Playing Political Football, L.A. Loses

September 18, 1996|MIKE DOWNEY

By emotionally blackmailing Peter O'Malley, R.D. Hubbard and those who would like to build a football stadium someplace else, Los Angeles politicians have harmed--not helped--the chances of this city landing a National Football League team in the near future by forcing the Coliseum down the NFL's throat.

Because the NFL and its affiliate owners aren't as sold on our archaic fixer-upper as those in California who hold it near and dear, the league will now be more inclined to favor Cleveland and Houston for its next two replacement teams. And for every vacated market, there's also a Memphis or a Toronto, just like a Jacksonville or a Charlotte, willing to pay big and do whatever the NFL asks.

Therefore, you can thank Mayor Richard Riordan and councilmen such as Mike Hernandez and Mark Ridley-Thomas when we are still sitting here in 2005, without a new stadium or new team. What we will have is our Memorial Coliseum and our memories. And be sure to order that satellite dish, so you can continue following pro football.

No doubt understanding that he would be painted as an avaricious villain, should he continue to pursue a stadium of his own, O'Malley was left little choice but to sing the chorus of "unity" and act the part of good burgher, even though the NFL would much rather be in business with him.

The very thing for which his father was vilified, abandoning the old for the new, is what our city bosses would have used against O'Malley had he stuck to his guns, even though his own plan, like his father's, was born of a desire not only for profit but progress. Unfortunately, those of us who support a new stadium site are not as loud as those who don't.

We are told instead that the Coliseum is the happiest place on Earth, practically, and that the neighborhood is such a gosh-darn pleasant place that we should pack our picnic baskets and go skipping into the arena hand-in-hand like a family from a Knott's Berry Farm ad.

We are told that the only reason undesirables roamed the stands was because the Raiders were their team, so that once we get those luxury boxes built, the Coliseum will be the kind of place where the fans of our cute little NFL expansion club can link arms and sing "We Are the World" during TV timeouts.

And so, because Riordan and his cronies have elected to fax to the NFL their radical "You'll Play Where We Damn Well Tell You" proposal, what we now have is a unified Los Angeles that will now get approval from the NFL's authorities when they damn well feel like it, since the city has done precisely the opposite of what the league requested.

The alternative is for the NFL to openly and flatly reject the Coliseum, no matter how many more millions go pouring into it, so that the mayor will get the message loud and clear that O'Malley's site is the one they prefer. Otherwise, the next West Coast site approved by the NFL is going to start with a large letter A and be located about 50 miles to the south.

Right around then will Riordan, Hernandez, Ridley-Thomas and everyone at their dinner table be able to clink glasses and toast each other: "Well, we still don't have pro football, but we've still got that big Oregon State game this Saturday night! Cheers."

The memories people have of a great stadium are what make it special to them, but even when a stadium is condemned, the memories remain. You don't have to sit in the Polo Grounds or Forbes Field or some grandstand in Bloomington, Minn., throughout eternity, just because you had some heartwarming experiences there.

There is a silent majority in Los Angeles today, of those of us who want a totally new, state-of-the-art football stadium, with all the trimmings. But we are being shouted down by men more impassioned, who would have you believe that their way is the best way, and you better agree, or else. O'Malley, Hubbard and others acted as independent businessmen, and were made to feel like traitors.

As a consequence, your choice is to have pro football at the Coliseum or no pro football at all. Some of us who love living in L.A. would also love a third option.

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