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Even in the wake of Katrina, the games must go on

Hurricane Katrina's vicious strike to the gulf coast has impacted us all, even those of us living 600 miles away. We have seen the coverage nonstop on television and read about it in newspapers. We are all aware of the numerous relief efforts undertaken by every organization that exists. Stories of this catastrophic event will go on forever.

When bad news strikes - whether it is a natural disaster, war or a terrorist strike - we are fortunate in the United States to have a wide array of sports opportunities to briefly distract us from all the bad news. Whether we watch the games or play in them, they give us a momentary respite to clear our minds.

We are often accused of letting sports get in the way of reality. Many of us forget that the games are just that, games. We fret over things like home games being shifted away from the areas of bad weather or having to be totally rescheduled. We dislike it when our teams are inconvenienced or our own travel plans are changed.

I read a lot of sports-related websites and the sports pages of many southeastern newspapers on the internet. All of these newspapers are just like our local papers. They are full of stories concerning the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

One little tidbit of a story that started popping up out of New Orleans last week was concerning the condition of the Louisiana Superdome. Not its' condition in relationship to the role it played as a hurricane shelter, or a potential shelter in the future, but its' condition as a venue for sporting events. Specifically, I am speaking of the January 2, 2006 Sugar Bowl and the 2006 football season of the NFL's New Orleans Saints.

While the federal, state and local governments are trying to piece together a plan to clean up and then rebuild the areas hit by Katrina, there are those frantically working in the background to make decisions concerning big money football games. After all, the show must go on.

The Sugar Bowl committee has all but decided that they want that game played in Baton Rouge, at LSU's Tiger Stadium. The hang-up to that plan is that Baton Rouge does not have the necessary 30,000 hotel rooms needed to accommodate such an event. Being only 65 miles away, the Sugar Bowl brain trust is scrambling to encourage the fast track renovation of as many New Orleans hotels as possible.

They aren't encouraging the rebuilding of these hotels in a three-month time frame to provide rooms for the homeless mind you. They don't want the state of Louisiana to lose the big bucks of the Sugar Bowl for even one year. Atlanta, Houston, Jacksonville and other cities have offered their stadiums as temporary solutions. Could it be that the Sugar Bowl committee fears that to move to one of these locations would turn out to not be so temporary?

Personally, I've been to five Sugar Bowls and to New Orleans a couple of other times, and I always felt the city and the Superdome was overrated. I can assure you that if my team is lucky enough to play in a Baton Rouge Sugar Bowl and I can't find a hotel room outside of the Big Easy (New Orleans), I'll sleep in the car. Mud under the mattress gives me the willies.

Saints owner Tom Benson has been clashing with Louisiana officials for several years concerning the poor condition of the pre-Katrina Superdome. He has been demanding either a new lease agreement or a new stadium.

The situation now will likely dictate that he gets neither within the immediate future. It could be that Katrina has provided Benson the needed leverage to eventually get a new ballpark or move his team elsewhere. The Saints are playing most of their scheduled home games this season in San Antonio's Alamodome.

"NFL owners and hurricanes make strange bedfellows" may soon trump the old cliche "politics makes strange bedfellows." Through the disaster of this hurricane, that would be one heck of a note. To lose the Sugar Bowl, and especially the Saints, would cost the economy of New Orleans greatly for eternity. But the games must go on, somewhere else if necessary.



Web posted on Thursday, September 22, 2005











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