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Phil Anschutz a game-changer in Los Angeles' bid for NFL

The cocktail-party schmoozing is over. The NFL is now playing directly with an equal as it decides whether to put a franchise in Los Angeles.

March 15, 2013|Bill Dwyre

How sweet it is. Let the church bells ring.

A suggestion for NFL fans in Los Angeles. Tonight over dinner, clink your cocktail glasses in toast to Phil Anschutz.

We have just witnessed the most significant good-news story about the NFL and Los Angeles since Georgia and Al took their ball and went elsewhere in 1995. No huge regrets. Our stance then was correct. Don't let the door hit you in the ...

Since then, until Thursday, we have had endless years of false starts, pipe dreams and empty rhetoric. Headlines screamed of new chances for an NFL return. Blow-dried men and women stood confidently in front of TV cameras and repeated words of hope, fed to them by local luminaries: "We are getting closer.…"

We were always getting closer.

The NFL nodded and city councils and state assemblies scurried to vote yes. We've kept architectural design businesses solvent by commissioning renderings for our next NFL stadium. We've got more models sitting around than a toy store.

We have been so eager to please. Who needs dignity? Common sense? Let's just crawl on our hands and knees up to the pedestal upon which sits Roger Goodell, commissioner of the NFL and the 30-million-dollar man (last year's salary and bonus). Politicians trying to get reelected, politicians trying to become bigger politicians, developers, Hollywood big shots, local tire-kickers, rich men, ordinary men trying to be rich, have all entered the fray along the way. A colleague has a wonderful characterization for most of them: A parade of lightweights.

Here's an image. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa across the table from Goodell and a couple of his owners. Here's another image. One mackerel and three great white sharks.

What Anschutz did Thursday was say he'd had enough. No more sucking up to the NFL. No more nicey-nice. He has spent his money, $45 million of it, and is done with game-playing and endless chatter.

The gauntlet is down. The cocktail-party schmoozing is over. The NFL is now playing directly with an equal. It may not like that, but it will like his cash. Ego-clashing often best ends with check-writing.

There are still reasons for this not to end well for Los Angeles. But if it doesn't, at least we should know sooner rather than later. Anschutz is done with the dawdling.

In the past, the NFL has talked and darted, agreed and rescinded. What was today is never tomorrow. Its favorite ploy was to ask for $20 and, at pay time, to say, oh, we meant $120.

The content and tone of everything Anschutz said Thursday was clear. The summary quote: "The NFL should come to L.A... Ultimately, it's my view they will... Not only am I optimistic, but I'm willing to back it with considerable money."

Here's guessing the NFL read that.

Tim Leiweke, Anschutz's able and trusted assistant for all these years, departed because he had become part of the "noise" Anschutz hates. The message was like Dick Butkus, trying to coach a linebacker on a pass-rush technique and, seeing it wasn't sinking in, donning the pads and doing it himself.

Now, we have Great White on Great White.

For the first time since we became a pro-football-free zone, we have somebody who won't raise his eyes and tilt his head back when speaking of, and to, the NFL.

There are lots of rich and powerful people in the NFL. Few are richer or more powerful than Anschutz, oilman, developer and financier of the L.A. Live hot spot that has enlivened our city.

Anschutz almost never gives interviews. Thursday, he gave several, including one to the sports editor and business editor of The Times. He likes to deal with bosses. The in-between people just make noise.

In my previous life of coat-and-tie bossdom, I sought an interview with him during a phone conversation. He said no. I knew he played tennis and so did I. I challenged him to a match. I win, he sits for an interview. I lose, I go away forever. He liked the approach, would have done it, but he had a broken arm.

I don't pretend to know him. Few do. I do know he is a tough guy, and now he is our tough guy.

Finally, we are able to swim with the sharks.

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