According to New Orleans Saints Coach Jim Haslett, NFL officials were adamant that the team would play more of its home games this season in Baton Rouge, La., than in San Antonio.
"I know what their agenda was: They would like us to play in our home state," Haslett said just after the league announced Monday that the Saints would play four games in Baton Rouge and three in San Antonio. "And our players like that, too, to be honest with you. It's just more of a travel issue and a family issue. But I'm sure our families and their families and friends will go to Baton Rouge to see the game and be with them."
The decision was made after NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue and Saints owner Tom Benson visited Baton Rouge on Monday. Tagliabue previously had moved the Saints' first scheduled home game, against the New York Giants, to Giants Stadium, a move that Haslett criticized. The game, which had been scheduled for Sunday, was made part of a nationally televised doubleheader scheduled for this Monday night.
Haslett previously had said he would like to see the team play its home games in San Antonio this season because that is where it is practicing, but he felt an obligation to play at least some games in Louisiana. NFL Players Association chief Gene Upshaw said after meeting with the Saints players late last week that he had told them the league would not allow the team to abandon Louisiana in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
Haslett said during a news conference Monday that he had never even been to Tiger Stadium at Louisiana State University, one of his club's new home fields.
One of the Saints' four home games to be played at LSU will come next month against the Miami Dolphins. That means that the Dolphins' first-year coach, Nick Saban, will be coaching a game at the school that he left in December to return to the NFL.
LSU plays home games on the Saturday nights before two Saints games tentatively scheduled to be played on Sunday afternoons in Baton Rouge -- Oct. 30 against the Dolphins and Nov. 6 against the Chicago Bears. On those weekends, the Saints game might be pushed back to a later starting time Sunday or perhaps even to Monday night.
The Saints announced yesterday that ticket holders for games at the Superdome this season can receive refunds or, if they wish, apply credits toward ticket purchases for games in San Antonio or Baton Rouge this season or toward purchases for games next season.
Games Before the Game
The ejections of Philadelphia Eagles middle linebacker Jeremiah Trotter and Atlanta Falcons reserve cornerback Kevin Mathis for their pregame scuffle Monday night were unusual, but not unprecedented.
In 2003, the league instructed game officials to be on the field 50 minutes before games to monitor players' activities, and warned teams that they could be penalized 15 yards on the opening kickoff for taunting incidents and players could be ejected for fighting.
Defensive tackle Warren Sapp, then with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, put those instructions to the test that year when he made it a habit to run through opposing teams' stretching drills before games. Sapp and Washington Redskins linebacker LaVar Arrington exchanged pro wrestling-style threats from afar before the two clubs met in an October 2003 game at FedEx Field, with Arrington vowing to take action if Sapp repeated his pregame antics, and the league warned both teams that the officials would be watching closely. There was no incident between Sapp and Arrington, but Sapp bumped an official before the game and days later was fined $50,000 for what the league called repeated violations of abusing officials.
Last November, Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Joey Porter and Cleveland Browns running back William Green were ejected for a pregame scuffle. . . .
Quick, name the NFC's best team right now.
The Eagles clearly held that distinction all of last season on their way to reaching the Super Bowl, but they suddenly find themselves in last place in the NFC East with the cloud of the strained relationship between quarterback Donovan McNabb and wide receiver Terrell Owens still hanging over the team. McNabb committed three turnovers Monday night. Owens had seven catches for 112 yards in the 14-10 loss to the Falcons but couldn't get into the end zone. Usually dependable kicker David Akers missed two of his three field goal attempts, even while kicking indoors.
The Falcons, at least temporarily, probably get conference bragging rights after avenging their defeat at Philadelphia in last season's NFC title game. But they had everything going in their favor Monday: They were playing at home. Their opponent's quarterback and star receiver barely are on speaking terms. And they managed to get their opponent's most important defensive player ejected before the game even started. The Falcons still didn't show that they'll be able to pass the ball effectively this season. Quarterback Michael Vick had one long completion to set up a touchdown but ended up connecting on only 12 of 23 passes for 156 yards. Like McNabb, he threw an interception and lost two fumbles. Vick was sacked four times and finished the game with a passer rating of 55.7. . . .
The Minnesota Vikings and Carolina Panthers entered the season with high hopes to be top NFC challengers. But the Vikings gave a dud of a performance and lost at home Sunday to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Panthers lost at home to the vagabond Saints and are staring at an 0-2 start, with the New England Patriots coming to town this weekend. Carolina also lost a key defensive player, tackle Kris Jenkins, to a season-ending knee injury.
"It's a long season and we've got a tough opponent coming in next week, and it's going to be very important that we get ready for the New England Patriots," Panthers safety Mike Minter said after the Saints game. "They're a football team that's got it all together. We've got to come in and prepare to beat those guys, because we can."
It's far, far too early to draw any conclusions yet. But one week into the season, the AFC again looks overloaded with good to superb teams and the NFC again looks like it has a decided lack of top clubs.
Two general managers could get some heat if things don't improve for their teams. In Chicago, Bears GM Jerry Angelo left his club, for a second year in a row, without a viable Plan B if quarterback Rex Grossman got hurt. Grossman, for a second year in a row, got hurt. And the Bears, with rookie Kyle Orton starting at quarterback, scored only after a fumbled kickoff in Sunday's 9-7 loss to the Redskins.
In San Diego, the Chargers were without tight end Antonio Gates for their season-opening loss at home to Dallas because General Manager A.J. Smith played contract hardball during the preseason and placed Gates on the team's roster exempt list when he missed a deadline imposed by Smith for him to join the club. Gates tried to meet the deadline but missed it by a day. Soon after reporting to the Chargers, Gates got the long-term contract he had been seeking. But being placed on the roster exempt list forced him to sit out three games, two preseason contests and the regular season opener. . . .
Green Bay probably will replace Ahmad Carroll with Joey Thomas at one starting cornerback spot. Carroll was called for four penalties during Sunday's season-opening loss to Detroit. . . .
Kansas City likely will be without defensive tackle Ryan Sims (sprained foot) and offensive tackle Willie Roaf (strained hamstring muscle) for Sunday night's game at Oakland. The Chiefs also could be without cornerback Patrick Surtain because of a concussion.