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Not the Only Game in Town

September 05, 1997|PATT MORRISON

Anyone who holds as few moral absolutes as I do had darned well better stick tight to those she has.

Near the top of my brief list is the unswervingly held conviction that a football game played before Sept. 1 is an unseemly and unnatural thing, like frost on an orchid.

Thankfully, the calendar page has turned, I can now watch the Green Bay Packers (already in progress)--and Los Angeles still has no pro football team to play in its unseemly, eternal summer.

There is an excruciatingly nuanced game being played to get taxpayers to do some of the heavy lifting on a new sports arena complex downtown. There is the seduction of the NFL to get a team back in the Coliseum, or maybe up at Dodger Stadium. Hollywood Park, South Park, downtown arena, Dodger Stadium (all right, who said "Irwindale"?)--seems like a seller's market, not a buyer's. New stadium talk begins to sound like people who sell their houses because the places need new carpeting.

Come to think of it, there might be too many teams, too. The Clippers are only slightly risible, the Angels have been amiable also-rans for decades. Yet unlike most big "sports towns," people here aren't living or dying over a win-loss record because, also unlike those big "sports towns," L.A. has other distractions and other absorptions.

Moreover, the appeal of living here is to be able to wall ourselves off from the casual and unwanted brush with the rest of the world, to be master of patio and lawn and deck, not to jam into some arena, creating enough mass body heat to see Cleveland through the winter. (Maybe if we all got spacious sky boxes we'd rethink this.)


Now, about that arena. Why do I keep hearing the '80s echo of trickle-down economics, except that it isn't money doing the trickling?

Now that individual welfare checks are getting the squeeze, the knives are out for corporate welfare in government--like the $90 million the government reimburses food producers every year for selling their goods overseas.

Since 1990, some $12 billion has gone into American sports facility construction, and as The Times reported in July, all but five of 59 such projects are financed in whole or part by . . . duh . . . taxpayers. Tax breaks, depreciation, deductions--that's a lotta Dodger dogs.

From the arena deal sleight of hand that my office neighbor Bill Boyarsky has so ably scratched and sniffed, it's clear that there is always a bag, and always someone left holding it. If this were an upturned fruit crate with three walnut hulls on a New York street, I suspect someone would be making the acquaintance of a nightstick at the 70th Precinct.

Forget an initiative about whether stadiums that rely on public funds ought to be approved by popular vote; ask people whether they want a team at all.

Oakland was so thrilled to get its Raiders back that stories were told of men who cleaned out savings accounts, intended for a down payment on a house, to buy into the new ticket deal. I hear the Raiders aren't exactly playing to SRO crowds these days.

NFL owners go on and on about safety and security at the Coliseum. If football fans are as tough as they like to think they are, why not play in the Coliseum? While I can't recall a single violent crime outside the Coliseum after a game, I very clearly remember a man severely beaten up in the seats by a Raiders fan. Maybe it's the neighborhood that should be worried when the stadium empties after dark.


L.A. created the no-fuss, no-muss, virtual and vicarious experience. We call them "movies," the safe, virtual-life precursor of virtual sex. So why not virtual football?

Pat Haden, the broadcaster and local sports laudable, has remarked that some people like not having local pro teams; their absence means more games available on TV.

Why not? Why not adopt a team? Most of us already have, informally. Look at all the sports bars that cater to individual NFL teams on Sundays. Let's make a commitment, like a sister city program. Invite the teams all out here for training camp so we can take one another's measure.

Green Bay and L.A. could institute cheese swaps, form auxiliary fan clubs--the brieheads.

And you cannot even begin to assign a value to the delight we'd get to settle in on a sunny Sunday to watch "our" team on TV, and seeing an icy stadium full of fans bundled up tight as ticks, referees in three layers of shirts, linebackers puffing cold air like steam engines, and snow banked high as the benches.

To modify the Latin phrase, it is the perfect in loco loco relationship.

Unlike most big 'sports towns,' people here aren't living or dying over a win-loss record because, also unlike those big 'sports towns,' L.A. has other distractions and other absorptions.

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