Katrina might send Saints to L.A.

Storm tossed, the New Orleans Saints should heave up on Los Angeles' shores, there hopefully to experience better fortune than ever attended them in New Orleans.

I can't see the NFL maintaining a franchise in the Louisiana city. Even before that vixen named Katrina visited New Orleans, the Saints were on the dole. For the team to remain solvent, a former governor of Louisiana had to extend them a $180 million grant to be paid across a 10-year period. When the state came up short the last two years, the club had to go to the Legislature for the funds necessary for it to function.

New Orleans simply does not possess the population (about 500,000) or the corporate influence to support an NFL franchise. In the state of Louisiana, persons with business backgrounds have advised me that there are only one or two Fortune 500 firms.

As a site for Super Bowls, New Orleans is perfect. Visitors get compressed into the playground that is the French Quarter, they sample the shrimp etouffe, they hear the sounds of jazz and they are transported. Were it not for New Orleans representing such a sublime Super Bowl site, I suspect the NFL would have been out of there some time ago.

For the Saints to relocate to Los Angeles makes too much sense for it not to happen. By offering Los Angeles as a sanctuary for the Saints, the NFL would fulfill its desire for a franchise there without disturbing its current 32-team format. Putting an expansion team in Los Angeles would have an appeal to the league - all those expansion fees it would pocket - but having 33 teams would make for awkward scheduling.

Doing business in Los Angeles would return the Saints to Southern California, where they took their first steps. Before their first season in 1967, they chose what then was Cal Western (now Point Loma Nazarene) in San Diego as a training site. They were hearty men, those Saints. They soon discovered the joys of spending their evenings at the Kona Kai Club, over the hill on Shelter Island.

I can remember covering Paul Hornung's retirement at the Kona Kai. He was late.

From the beginning, nothing went well for the Louisiana expansionists. From 1967-1978, they averaged four victories per season. They didn't have a winning record until 1987, when Jim Mora escorted them to the playoffs. They still have not been a party to a Super Bowl.

I have been thinking of some of the men I have known who have been associated with the Saints. Tom Fears, their first coach. Hank Stram, who had none of the coaching success there that he had had in Kansas City. Jim Finks, who would have made a great commissioner for the NFL had not a bloc of newly seated franchise owners shot down his appointment. All these men are deceased.

I think of them and of all the trials this team has borne on the field and of the apocalypse that has been visited upon the city. I have this thought: that the Saints have been living on the dark side, under some sort of a jinx. Spirits dwell in New Orleans. Walking through the French Quarter at night when the fog is gathering, I have sensed it. I even have written about it. One day, I hope I again can walk those streets.


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