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PATT MORRISON

L.A. and the NFL: Faking a pass?

April 27, 2006|PATT MORRISON

I LOVE football.

I love football so much that I don't know that I can bear having an NFL team in Los Angeles again.

Those team owners are so fickle. I loved the Rams, and the Rams jilted me. I loved the Raiders -- all right, maybe not loved; it was a co-dependency thing. Anyway, they left too.

If another team swaggers into town and sweet-talks me with flowers and fancy play-action-pass diagrams and swears that, baby, this time it'll be different -- well, I know where that's headed. It'll leave too, sooner or later. And then I'm a three-time loser.

I went out to the Coliseum this week. There, in the shadow of the historic peristyle, our mayor couldn't say enough -- in two languages -- about how great the place is, how wonderful it'd look after a makeover that taxpayers won't be paying for (except maybe $25 million for street work and parking) and how happy we'd all be to have a National Football League team in L.A. again. As for NFL team owners -- well, how could they say no to "a great fan base, a great historical venue, the second-largest media market in America"?

How? Just try them. They've been saying no for a dozen years. Antonio Villaraigosa is going to Dallas next week to try to charm the NFL owners into bringing a team back to L.A. and, oh yes, putting out about $800 million to redo the Coliseum. Leaders from Anaheim and maybe Pasadena will be in Texas too, pitching their own woo to NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue.

As a film crew shot a Reebok commercial way down around the stadium's 50-yard line, the mayor joshed with City Councilman Bernard Parks about their UCLA-USC rivalry -- in the cozy company of about a dozen camera crews and most of the Coliseum Commission. (I hadn't known that Candy Spelling is on the commission. I think her house is bigger than the Coliseum. I couldn't take my eyes off her handbag -- Hermes Birkin, I think. Real-world value: about 15 season tickets for the 49ers.)

Now that I've brought up the subject of money, Villaraigosa reminisced a bit about the shindigs he has attended at the Coliseum: concerts, college games and a Ram game -- the last on a ticket paid for by the Boys Club or the YMCA, because back then he sure couldn't have afforded it.

If the NFL does fork over $800 million to redo the place, I'm not sure he could afford a ticket then either. Five-hundred luxury boxes, 15,000 club seats, thousands fewer regular seats -- in a redesign that looks as though a huge glass flying saucer just slammed into the stadium -- and prices to recoup all that investment. Soldier Field in Chicago had a makeover a lot like it, and the National Park Service just stripped that grand old place of its status as a national historic landmark. That could happen to L.A., which has few enough historic landmarks as it is.

I hope Villaraigosa isn't letting himself in for the kind of heartbreak I've gone through. The NFL won't come here because we have great fans. It won't come here because we are a great city. It will only come here if it can get rich. I mean, richer.

"Merchants have no country. The mere spot they stand on does not constitute so strong an attachment as that from which they draw their gains." That's not me talking, that's Thomas Jefferson.

The NFL's loyalty is only as deep as its wallet. It's like a corporation that extracts big concessions from unions and wangles big tax breaks out of civic leaders for setting up shop in their town. The corporation pockets the dough, moves in -- and the minute it sees a chance to shave a nickel off its costs, it outsources. Like a shot, it's outta there.

Just ask Irwindale, which gave Raider owner Al Davis about $10 million just to give the town a look. That's all Irwindale got too -- a look at the back of Davis' head on his way out of town.

L.A. would get a 25-year lease, but lease, schmease. NFL team owners haven't hesitated to pull the plug before. Not only did they desert L.A., they took the Colts out of Baltimore in a midnight run to Indianapolis. The Oilers left Houston for Tennessee. The Cleveland Browns got Fed-Exed to Baltimore.

I think a lot of this was about shakedowns -- team owners wanting cities to put up bigger stadiums with luxury seating and skyboxes to rake in even more dough, and threatening to pick up and leave if the cities didn't come through. Team owners -- football, baseball, hockey -- can't shake big money out of L.A. taxpayers the way they have in burgs where pro sports is the only thing going. We have UCLA-USC. We have Team Hollywood. We can do just fine without football.

The NFL may need L.A. -- but not the way the mayor thinks. L.A. without a team could be more useful to the league than L.A. with a team. We're a bargaining chip. Some team's city acts uppity and doesn't come through with the tax break or the better stadium, and the next thing the city hears is "L.A. would love to have a team. L.A. wouldn't give us backtalk. If you don't play ball with us, L.A. will."

The NFL team owners and the commissioner vote yea or nay on L.A. late next month. I'd like it to happen, really. But if you believe that it's a sure thing, there's a gravel pit in Irwindale I'd like to sell you.

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PATT MORRISON's email is patt.morrison@latimes.com.

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