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Archive for Thursday, September 29, 2005

Saints embraced by San Antonio

Texas town hopes for NFL team of its own

September 29, 2005

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— The line snaked for a quarter mile.

Thousands of football-starved fans were jumping at the chance to buy tickets to see the New Orleans Saints - and for a chance to show how the nation's eighth-largest city can support an NFL team.

The mayor and business leaders are trying to rally the city to support the Saints, who were forced here when Hurricane Katrina swamped their city, and prove San Antonio is a major market worthy of an NFL franchise.

"It's unfortunate that it took these circumstance to get these games over here, but it will show San Antonio is ready for a team," said Red McCombs, a San Antonio resident and former owner of the Spurs and the Minnesota Vikings.

The NFL placed the Saints here for three games at the Alamodome this season, starting with Sunday's matchup with the Buffalo Bills. The Saints will play four games in Baton Rouge, La.

Little by little, the Alamodome is getting dressed up for the Saints. Team offices occupy much of the space of the lower levels, and giant "SAINTS" signs decorate the outside.

"The way we've been treated here so far, knowing that we're going through some things, it's been phenomenal," Saints wide receiver Joe Horn said.

But questions remain about where the Saints will be in the future - Los Angeles still is the NFL's favorite for a relocated franchise. Moreover, San Antonio's leaders are careful to note they're not trying to cash in on New Orleans' misfortune.

"It's improper to talk about trying to bring the team here. New Orleans is a city flat on its back," said Henry Cisneros, a former San Antonio mayor and Clinton administration official. "Then the best way we can show we deserve a team of our own no matter what is to fill the Alamodome three times."

Although the city sold about 50,000 tickets for the three Saints games that first day, as of Wednesday, more than 12,100 were available for Sunday's game. If it isn't a sellout, the NFL could institute a local television blackout.

San Antonio has flirted with the NFL before.

Hoping to lure an expansion team in the early 1990s, the city built the multipurpose Alamodome.

At about 65,000 for football games, the seating capacity is on the small side by NFL standards. And its 38 luxury boxes are far fewer than the league's newer arenas.

The league rejected San Antonio a decade ago in part because it was considered too poor, said Char Miller, a professor of urban studies at Trinity University in San Antonio.

The city has enjoyed an economic explosion over the last 15 years.

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