Mondays With Murray
AUGUST 9, 1998, SPORTS
Copyright 1998/THE TIMES MIRROR COMPANY
How Can NFL Not Miss Us?
I can't for the life of me understand the NFL.
You know, the population of California is about 33 million. It's bigger than some countries. Correction: It's bigger than most countries.
And more than 50 percent of the state's population lives south of the Tehacapi Mountains.
And, Los Angeles doesn't have a pro football franchise.
Green Bay, Wis., does. Figure that one out. Population? Oh, say, 100,000.
Buffalo has one. Population, 400,000. Jacksonville has one. Population 700,000.
What does the NFL have against crowds? I thought that was the whole idea. Put franchises where there are lots of customers.
Oh, pro football is a sport where you only have to fill your stadium about nine times a year. So, you can get away with a Green Bay. You couldn't put a major league baseball franchise there. You have half a 162-game season to try to sell out.
You can put the odd heavyweight championship fight in Goldfield, Nev. Or Shelby, Mont. But you can't run a weekly fight card in either and hope to draw.
And what of television? You want to sell your beer in a 15-million market or a 50,000 one? Let me guess.
You know, 50-odd years ago, when pro football first came to Los Angeles, it had to take its hat off, wipe its feet and beg for admittance. The colleges were outraged. Let a pro team into L.A.? In the Coliseum? I should say not! Let them play in the 12,000-seat Gilmore Stadium. Nobody was going to go to the games anyway.
Even when the Dodgers came here, they had to survive an ugly referendum election to get to stay.
But a case could be made that L.A. helped elevate pro football to the sports staple it has become. Before 1946, it was kind of a cultivated taste, like caviar or liver pate. People went to Army-Navy, Yale-Harvard, Notre Dame-USC for their football, not to the Pottstown Maroons versus the Decatur Staleys.
The blackest day in the pro game's history was the day Carroll Rosenbloom jerked the Rams out of the Coliseum and took them south. He skewed the picture permanently. It was the main step in a series of steps that left L.A. abandoned on the doorstep with a note pinned on it.
The symbiotic relationship between the Rams and the town was perfect. The Raiders never approached it.
A part of the problem was that the Coliseum was run by a joint commission. You know the old story: A camel is a horse put together by a commission.
The commission had a no-hitter going. Subconsciously, it achieved what USC wanted back in 1946 — it ran the pros out. The commission ran the Rams, Raiders and Bruins out of the Coliseum. It ran the Lakers and Kings out of the Sports Arena. Of course, Walter O'Malley took the Dodgers out of the Coliseum as soon as he could. O'Malley thought the Coliseum commissioners were really the Marx Brothers.
So, the NFL guys won't go near the Coliseum. They want the community to build them a new Taj Mahal to play in at no cost. And why not? About 20 other municipalities have done so.
The league has always been an amalgamation of musical chair franchises anyway. They used to fight you when you wanted to move. Now, they got a better idea: They charge you. About $1 million per 100 miles, I believe.
That's what Ed Roski and his colleagues want to do.
Roski is the co-owner of the Kings and co-owner of the new $370-million Staples Center under construction downtown, new home of the NHL and NBA in L.A.
Roski holds that the Coliseum is a part of L.A. worth preserving as a historic artifact. That's all very well, but we're not into history in this town. Stop 10 people in L.A., ask them who Mary Pickford was and you'll get blank stares from all 10.
But Roski contends that the Coliseum is the only viable alternative. Zero acquisition costs, three-quarters of a billion in federal investments in the area, no environmental impact study. Get a team, lock the commission politicians' follies in a mountain cabin someplace and kick off.
And, do we get an expansion team or the — yeeech! — Arizona Cardinals? Or do we get the Minnesota Vikings to thaw them out?
The mystery is, where are the TV networks in this picture? They have as much at stake as the league, the community.
Studies have shown the town greets the loss of the NFL with a shrug, even that some Southern Californians prefer no home team because they get more league telecasts, sans blackouts.
I doubt it. Gamblers and pro football junkies will watch any football game ever played, but you can't tell me a hometown honk will stay home from the beach or the golf course to watch the Jacksonville What's-Their-Names play the Carolina Whozits. Not in my house, they won't. And we're supposed to care about the San Diego Chargers? Get a life.
Anyway, you gonna sell more Toyotas in northeastern Wisconsin than in Southern California? If you think so, you haven't been on the Ventura Freeway lately.
L.A. doesn't need football so much as football needs L.A. You NFL guys need L.A. I would recommend you listen carefully to all proposals, including the Coliseum card. If you continue to worry more about Cleveland than L.A., well, I hate to sound threatening, but there's always soccer.
Reprinted with permission by the Los Angeles Times
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