Sunday, September 04, 2005


Mike Lupica says what needs to be said about the Saints

Time to step up to plate by Mike Lupica

Sunday, September 4th, 2005 When it was Sept. 11 four years ago in New York City, when it was airplanes piloted by madmen flying into buildings and killing 3,000 of our people and not just one of the greatest cities but the greatest city of all wounded this way, there were all these discussions on our side of things, the sports side, about where sports fit into the whole grand scheme of things.
We stopped the games and talked about all that until the games started again.
This time it is New Orleans. It is not a man-made calamity, it is one made by God. We see pictures from there, on a constant loop, of the fault line of real American life. We see the true division between rich and poor laid bare. We see how slow George Bush and his government, so many of the high-ranking fools he has working for him, are to respond to one of our cities that looks as if it has been hit by a tidal wave, at a time when a single day might have meant everything to the suffering, or even the dead.
We are told Bush will fix things, as he finally shows up down there to act like the photo-op president of the poor. What has he ever fixed? He could call in the Louisiana National Guard, except that too many of them are helping him liberate Iraq.
Where is the Vice President in the aftermath of an epic natural disaster like this? On vacation. Where is the Secretary of State? At the theater, before being talked out of a day at the United States Tennis Open. There are so many people from this administration who belong in the lower weight classes you don't know where to start.
When a tsunami hit on the other side of the world, this was an administration whose first response was to offer to write a check for $15 million. The lie now, from the yahoos in the Bush media, is that it was $350 million from the start. It wasn't. For the past four years, the first instinct of this President, almost always, is wrong, the way he was wrong about Cindy Sheehan. Now you look back on these four years since Sept. 11 and it is more than fair to ask yourself what these people have ever gotten right?
There was no warning for the tsunami. What excuse is there for our government not to be more prepared for Katrina, for a storm being pitched for days as the Gulf Coast storm of the century?
So where does sports fit in this time, when a different type of attack comes out of the sky and through the levees of New Orleans? There is no baseball season to interrupt in New Orleans. There is Saints football and Hornets basketball. There is college football. But there is no debate, no hand-wringing about whether our games are more or less important at a time like this, even as we saw in October and November of 2001 how important the baseball playoffs and that World Series between the Yankees and Diamondbacks were to New York.
What can sports do? Start here: The NFL commissioner, Paul Tagliabue, should get his owners together and get them in line and say that the 2010 Super Bowl - the one that was given to New York as part of Tagliabue's lobbying to help get the Jets their new football palace on the West Side - is being awarded to New Orleans.
It is the city that has hosted nine Super Bowls, more than any other American city. Give it another. Now. This is a way for Tagliabue and the NFL to send more than money to New Orleans. It is a way to send hope, to make a powerful statement about the league's belief that New Orleans will rebuild itself.
This isn't that huckster claim that New York needed the 2012 Summer Games as a way to show that it had come all the way back from terrorism, as if an event 11 years after the fact could do that. This is something much more immediate for New Orleans. Say that after a week when none of us could believe the horrific pictures from inside the Superdome that you, the NFL commissioner, and you, the NFL owners, believe that the place will once again be worthy of hosting the biggest football game and the biggest American sports event 4 1/2 years from now.
You want to have sports do something? Do that.
You want to use the Super Bowl as more than a lobbying tool for the Jets? Give the 2010 game to New Orleans. Use the economic impact of the game there.
Saints owner Tom Benson, not one of the brightest bulbs in the chandelier, complains before Hurricane Katrina that the Saints can't get on the NFL's radar for the 2010 Super Bowl. Benson knows why: The Saints haven't secured a long-term lease agreement with Louisiana. There is always the idea around, stronger now than ever, that Benson might move the Saints.
So Benson has to announce that the Saints aren't going anywhere. The negotiations about a new lease were supposed to be going on right now between Benson and Gov. Kathleen Blanco. When they resume, whenever they resume, a deal must be struck immediately. If Benson uses this tragedy as some permanent way out of town, to Los Angeles or someplace else, he is a bum.
Both Tagliabue and Benson have to say that the Saints aren't going to Los Angeles this season, or San Antonio, or Houston, that if everything can be worked out quickly at LSU, that the Saints' home games will be played there.
Of course these are only games. Don't take them away from the state at a time like this if there is any way to keep them close to New Orleans.
Sports can't clear the streets or stop the rising death toll or the violence of New Orleans, or the anger there about the bunglers in Washington. Sports can't go back and make the levees hold any more than any politician could have. Sports can't give a brain to a career hack like .Michael Brown, Bush's head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, who wants to blame the number of dead in New Orleans, whatever it will eventually be, on people who didn't get out of town fast enough. Forget about the people of New Orleans. Brown is the one in over his head here.
All sports can give is hope, a little at a time. So keep the Saints close to home this season. Give New Orleans its 10th Super Bowl in 2010. It seems, in so many ways, like a drop in the bucket. Sometimes sports can be more than that.
Maybe this time it can be more decisive about New Orleans than the president.

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