The NFL in London could work with a little compromise

This coming Sunday, the Dallas Cowboys and Jacksonville Jaguars will play the third and final game of this NFL season’s International Series at Wembley Stadium in London, England.

The series began as an experiment in 2007 by the National Football League to gauge interest of the sport in the European marketplace.

And although the second largest media market in this country – Los Angeles – is on the verge of landing not one but possibly two NFL teams as soon as maybe next season after being without a team for 20 years, the League is still hell-bent on putting a team across the pond in London by 2022.

Commissioned by the NFL and a London marketing agency, the accounting firm DeLoitte released its findings last week from their study that said an NFL franchise based in London could generate more than $255 million for Britain annually.

In British pounds, we’re talking 165 million.

Pounds. Dollars. No matter what currency you reference, that’s a whole lot of coin the 32 team owners can’t ignore.

So, what about the fans both in the States and the British Isles?

A majority of NFL fans here don’t like the idea of putting a team in London because of travel logistics and the idea that it would be similar to out-sourcing American jobs to foreign countries.

Tom Bateman, president of Bring Back the Los Angeles Rams, traveled to London in 2012 to watch the St. Louis Rams play the New England Patriots. courtesy: Tom Bateman
Tom Bateman, director of Bring Back the Los Angeles Rams, traveled to London in 2012 to watch the St. Louis Rams play the New England Patriots.
courtesy: Tom Bateman

As for the Brits, L.A. native Tom Bateman, the director of Bring Back the Los Angeles Rams, traveled to merry old England for a week in October of 2012 to watch the St. Louis Rams take on the New England Patriots.

While there, Bateman spoke with British fans he discovered enjoy American football immensely but think the idea of putting a team in London permanently is a silly one.

I agree with the Brits. If a team is moved or an expansion team is awarded to London, would the league’s name be changed to the International Football League?

“Part of the appeal to the Brits is that each (International Series) game showcases different teams” said Bateman who added, “The NFL in the UK is a spectacle as much as it is a sport. Probably more so.”

British tailgaters at the 2012 NFL International Series Game between the St. Louis Rams and New England Patriots played at Wembley Stadium in London. courtesy: Tom Bateman
British tailgaters “dressed to kilt” at the 2012 NFL International Series Game between the St. Louis Rams and New England Patriots played at Wembley Stadium in London.
courtesy: Tom Bateman

He also discovered an NFL game represents everything the British love about America.

According to Bateman the Brits love the fact that we’re a show off nation.

Really, no sport or league shows off more than the NFL.

“It’s flashy, spectacular, the uniforms, the helmets, the cheerleaders, the endzone celebrations, the sack dances, all of that.” Said Bateman continuing, “But as a sport, to the Brits it can’t hold a candle to soccer or as they refer to it, real football.”

Also on the NFL’s agenda, sooner rather than later, is reducing the pre-season schedule from four games to two while expanding the regular season from its current 16-game schedule to 18.

An 18-game schedule is something the Players’ Union isn’t too keen on for player safety and the extra two games don’t increase the players’ salaries.

What about a little compromise for all parties involved so the 32 team owners, the players and Britain’s annual economy can capitalize on the projected $255 million the NFL stands to generate should it have a permanent presence in London.

Since the Brits enjoy seeing different teams play each International Series game and the logistics of having a permanent team call London home seem a bit difficult to iron out, let’s give the Brits what they want.

America's Game - NFL Football - celebrated at Wembley Stadium in London. courtesy: Tom Bateman
America’s Game – NFL Football – celebrated at Wembley Stadium in London.
courtesy: Tom Bateman

At the same time, let’s expand the regular season from 16 to 17 regular season games with the extra game for each team played each week at Wembley Stadium in London.

So what if it’s an odd number schedule. Only thing affected is a team finishing .500 which isn’t a huge deal in the grand playoff scheme of things.

This way, only teams with winning records would qualify for the postseason.

Make the 17th game match ups interconference games – AFC vs. NFC – with the match ups chosen with ping pong ball machines much like the ones used to choose the World Cup soccer groups or the NBA Draft Lottery and do it during Super Bowl Week for games in the upcoming regular season. Cut the pre-season to just two games.

You’ve added a game while having an entire regular season schedule – 16 weeks – in London with the Brits seeing all 32 NFL teams in different match ups each game and year.

It becomes a “pseudo Super Bowl” each week in London because the logistics time wise of having the Super Bowl in London – which has been discussed – just won’t work for NFL fans in the States who want to see the biggest game and spectacle on U.S. soil and rightfully so.

After all, it is America’s Game. Somewhere all 32 teams need to always call home.

No Disrespect. L.A. is the pLAce for the NFL

Downtown Los Angeles skyline at dusk.

Let me immediately debunk a serious cliché, untruth and down-right lie in regards to WE Angelenos.

It states, “WE WON’T SUPPORT and NEVER HAVE SUPPORTED an NFL team in Los Angeles because there are just too many other things to do here on a Sunday afternoon.”

Well, the part about plenty of things to do on a Sunday afternoon is spot-on. But, that’s what makes the City of Angels one of the greatest cities in the world.

The part about WE WON’T SUPPORT and NEVER HAVE SUPPORTED an NFL team is the biggest bunch of absolute garbage I’ve ever heard or read.

This clichéd rhetoric is old, tired, ignorant and completely false.

It’s a complete insult to all of US Angelenos.

Seriously!

Looking at L.A. from atop the Hollywood Sign.

Los Angeles, the second largest market in the country, home to Hollywood, a pair of MLB teams (Dodgers & Angels), a pair of NBA teams (Lakers & Clippers…and maybe the Anaheim Royals soon.), a pair of NHL teams (Kings & Ducks) a pair of major division one universities (USC & UCLA) and a pair of  MLS teams (Galaxy & Chivas USA) isn’t called the entertainment capital of the world for nothing. And although a sport, football, which includes the NFL variety, is one of the greatest forms of entertainment known to man, woman and child.

All I have to do is cite the Los Angeles Rams, the gold-standard among many pro football teams that have called L.A. home, as my example of WE Angelenos SUPPORTING an NFL team.

The L.A. Coliseum opened on May 1st 1923.

Beginning in 1946, after their move from Cleveland because they couldn’t compete with the Browns, the Los Angeles Rams called Southern California home for 49 years. The first 34 at the 100,000 seat L.A. Memorial Coliseum and the last 15 at Anaheim Stadium before moving to the Midwest in 1995.

49 YEARS!

Had the Rams not been supported by WE Angelenos throughout that half-century, you figure they would have left after year five.

The Rams called the Coliseum home from 1946 to '79.

During a 13 year period in the modern Super Bowl era from 1967 to 1979, the Rams won nine division titles, seven of those in consecutive seasons, played in seven conference championship games and one Super Bowl all the while attracting crowds at the Coliseum in excess of 65,000 to over 70,000 every Sunday afternoon.

In my interview with Hall-of-Fame defensive end Jack Youngblood and tight end Bob Klein, stars for the Rams during those years, both told me they fed off the energy of those Coliseum crowds. Fans that are still devoted to them today.

The Rams averaged just under 60,000 fans per regular season game in the 34 years they played at the Coliseum including three of the top-ten all-time league attendance single-game records exceeding 100,000 fans in the stands.

Rams called Anaheim Stadium home from 1980-'94.

The  first 12 seasons in Anaheim, they averaged about 57,000 fans. The years 1992-94 saw a significant drop-off due to rumors of a potential move first to Baltimore and, later, St. Louis. The Rams averaged about 45,000 fans those final three seasons.

Most team owners in any professional sport relocate because they can’t get the city they call home to ante up, via public funding, for a brand new arena with all the modern amenities to maximize revenue for them and their team.

Ex-Rams owner Carroll Rosenbloom with a model of the Football-enclosed Anaheim Stadium.

Former L.A. Rams owner Carroll Rosenbloom left L.A. for Anaheim in ’79 because the Coliseum Commission and L.A. politicians wouldn’t fork over taxpayer dollars to upgrade the Coliseum. Anaheim DID enclosing the Big “A” without its then-primary tenant, the California Angels, reaping any benefits whatsoever, so it could gain elite status as a city that an NFL team called home.

That changed in the early 90s when Georgia Frontiere wanted upgrades to the Big A via public funding. Anaheim said not this time. Off the Rams went to St. Louis.

St. Louis city officials and the state of Missouri gave the Rams everything they wanted and more including a new stadium in 1995 to return the Gateway City to elite NFL status after the Cardinals bolted a few years earlier for Arizona.

The 17 year old Edward Jones Dome is already obsolete by NFL standards.

The tables have now turned for the Gateway City. The Edwards Jones Dome needs upgrades the Rams negotiated in their original contract. St. Louis wants the Rams to pay more than half with taxpayers footing the rest of the bill.

Currently the Rams, Minnesota Vikings, Oakland Raiders, San Diego Chargers, Jacksonville Jaguars and Buffalo Bills are the NFL franchises looking to upgrade their stadium situations and join the 21st Century NFL.

It’s why Al Davis moved the Raiders to L.A. from Oakland in 1982 and then back to Oakland in ‘95. ‘84 when Bob Irsay moved the Colts from Baltimore for Indianapolis. ‘87 when Bill Bidwell moved the Cardinals from St. Louis to Phoenix. ’95 when Frontiere moved the Rams to St. Louis from Anaheim. ‘96 when Art Modell moved the Browns from Cleveland to Baltimore. ’97 when Bud Adams moved the Oilers to Tennessee from Houston.

These owners didn’t pack up their teams and leave their former cities because of the lack of fan support. It always has been and will be about stadium upgrade issues.

PERIOD.

San Diego's Qualcomm Stadium is one of the 3 most outdated stadiums in the NFL.

Not coincidentally, the San Diego Chargers and Oakland Raiders are on the possible relocation list because they play in two of the three most outdated stadiums in the NFL. The San Francisco 49ers were on the list playing in the third.

The 49ers new stadium in Santa Clara is scheduled to open in 2014.

The 49ers will be playing in a brand new $1.2 billion facility within the next couple of years in Santa Clara. A building privately funded with the 49ers borrowing $400 million. The Santa Clara Stadium Authority borrowing $450 million. $150 million from the league’s stadium fund. $40 million from the Santa Clara City Redevelopment Agency with the final $35 million coming from a hotel tax paid by tourists and visitors to the city.

I bring these three teams up because, if you include the L.A. Coliseum and Pasadena Rose Bowl, California has the five most archaic “NFL-ready” stadiums. Anaheim Stadium’s out of play because it’s now a baseball-only stadium if you don’t count a high school gridiron clash or two.

California’s citizens and its government entities won’t consider stadium plans of any sort to be publicly-funded using taxpayer dollars. Especially in these tough economic times. We’re absolutely right not to.

That’s why the state is home to the five most archaic “NFL-ready” stadiums in the country.

This is the ONLY reason why Los Angeles hasn’t been a part of the NFL for 17 seasons and counting.

AEG is targeting a 2017 grand opening of Farmers Field in Los Angeles.

This “extended road-trip” Los Angeles has endured could be coming to an end soon with not just one, but possibly two teams, from the list relocating here.

"Tailgating L.A. Style." An artist's rendition of Chick Hearn Court on Game-Day Sunday. Nokia Theatre and restaurants on the right. Staples Center in the left foreground. Farmers Field in left background.

The Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG) privately funded the Downtown Los Angeles Corridor Revitalization building the Staple Center and L.A. Live, and now is committed to privately fund, without taxpayer/public dollars, the entire construction of the $1.4 billion L.A. Convention Center and Farmers Field.

AEG’s already invested over $40 million, $27 million of those for an environmental impact report and the balance going to designs for the new convention center and football stadium.

Upon releasing the 10,000 page EIR earlier this month on the steps of L.A.‘s City Hall, point-man Tim Leiweke addressed AEG’s vision for the return of the NFL to the City of Angels.

A team could be calling L.A. home in September of 2013 playing its home games at the Coliseum until Farmers Field is completed by 2017.

As for which team it will be. Take a look at the aforementioned list. The Rams (if any team should call L.A. home, it should be the Rams.) and the Vikings are the top two candidates for various reasons. Who will it be?

It’s going to happen. L.A. will be back in the NFL and the NFL will be back in Los Angeles. From any angle, it’s quite overdue.

Yes. There are plenty of things to do on a Sunday afternoon in the City of Angels, one of the greatest cities in the world, and the NFL should and will be one of them.

Photo courtesy: Eric Geller, AEG, Farmers Field, Los Angeles Times, stadiumsofprofootball.com, USA Today.

Video courtesy: Eric Geller, NFL Films

Are the Rams Returning to the City of Angels?

I don’t want to get too excited about the Rams returning to Los Angeles because I really don’t like to count my proverbial chickens before they hatch and find myself with bitter disappointment.

But………Can it be? Are the Moons aligning? In the names of Merlin, Youngblood, Deacon, Crazy Legs and Roman, are the Rams beginning the process of moving back to Los Angeles?

At the moment, all signs seem to be pointing in that very direction.

Published reports from St. Louis and Los Angeles are abuzz with stories regarding the sale of the Rams and two possible sites in the greater Los Angeles area for a state-of-the-art NFL stadium.

In the “Gateway City”, writers from the St. Louis Globe-Democrat and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch believe St. Louis losing an NFL franchise for the second time seems inevitable while Bernie Miklasz of stltoday.com and ESPN Radio refuses to suggest such a notion even though he clearly sees the writing on the wall.

Rams minority owner Stan Kroenke wants full control of the franchise and is looking to purchase it from Chip Rosenbloom and Lucia Rodriguez.  At issue, Kroenke owns the NBA’s Denver Nuggets and the NHL’s Colorado Avalanche. The NFL has rules against cross-ownership of teams in other major U.S. sports leagues. Kroenke seems to be able to clear such hurdles by signing over controlling interests of his other major sports teams to other family members.

Kroenke, also, seems to be working with L.A. sports & entertainment big-wigs to get them back where they belong, LOS ANGELES.

Earlier this week, St. Louis Globe-Democrat columnist Howard Balzer wrote:

It turns out Kroenke is a member of the league’s Los Angeles Stadium Working Group committee. Roll that one around in your mind a few minutes. Everyone I mentioned that to Thursday was silent for a few seconds, and then said, “Oh, my God.”

It means Kroenke is privy to every detail, every plan, simply everything that is related to those trying to get a stadium built there.

Then on Thursday, Los Angeles Times columnist Sam Farmer wrote that businessmen Casey Wasserman, who owned the L.A. Avengers of the defunct Arena Football League, and AEG’s Tim Leiweke are considering a plan to build a privately funded stadium behind the Staples Center where the West Hall of the Convention Center currently sits. They tried this about eight years ago, but they backed out when the Coliseum Commission tried to make its own bid that, also, failed.

In a follow-up article from Saturday’s L.A. Times, Farmer added Wasserman and Leiweke want the proposed $1 billion stadium to have a retractable roof for use year round for a number of other events.

The Coliseum Commission isn’t a factor any longer because it’s locked in with USC which has rights of first refusal because the Trojans football team is the Coliseum’s major tenant.

The stadium would complete the L.A. Live entertainment corridor that was envisioned by AEG when the Staples Center was first built. Of course, the stadium proposal would need to be approved by the City of Los Angeles because the convention center is owned by the city.

In the article, Farmer added:

What’s more, the downtown bid would put Wasserman and Leiweke in direct competition with developer Ed Roski, who already has an entitled and shovel-ready piece of land in City of Industry to build a football stadium. There is only room for one such project in the L.A. area, and the Industry group is at least a year ahead of any other because it has clearance to build.

Another problem exists with the NFL. The current collective bargaining agreement ends after next season. The league is trying to avoid a labor dispute and subsequent work-stoppage in 2011.

The sticking point, team owners want the players to help in paying off the huge stadium costs.

The new CBA will take at least a year to negotiate which means no stadium will be built or team will re-locate while the NFL takes care of its CBA. That’ll give Wasserman and Lewieke a year to catch up with Roski.

When the time comes, I think these two competing stadium teams might want to join forces and work together on one site to benefit the greater Los Angeles Area, the NFL, maybe the Rams, and, first and foremost, the long suffering Los Angeles Rams fans.

The Rams called Los Angeles home for 49 years before (gulp) Georgia Frontiere moved them to St. Louis in 1994 claiming Los Angeles wouldn’t support them because there was too much to do in Southern California other than watch football.

I said it then and I’ll say it now. HELLO! 49 YEARS! Needless to say, Georgia pulled a “Major League” getting a sweet money deal in St. Louis while still residing in Bel-Air.

The City of Angels could soon be celebrating the Rams 50th Anniversary in Los Angeles (16 years, and counting, in the making) with St. Louis losing its second NFL franchise. That doesn’t have to happen.

Here’s a thought. When the Rams move back to Los Angeles, how about moving the struggling Jacksonville Jaguars to St. Louis and re-naming them the Stallions. Wasn’t that the idea when the league expanded 16 years ago anyway?

As far as a second team in the new Los Angeles Stadium.  Do you really think Chargers owner Alex Spanos will sit put in San Diego and play in an aging Qualcomm Stadium when he can move his team into a state-of-the-art play-pen back in its original home just up Interstate 5?

Remembering Merlin Olsen

There were plenty of the usual, mundane, sports topics I contemplated writing about Thursday. I’ll get to them eventually. Forgot all about them when I found out Merlin Olsen died earlier that morning losing his battle against a form of lung cancer. He was 69.

If you knew nothing about big number 74 before Thursday, you’ve, by now, probably read all about the NFL hall-of-famer and anchor of the Los Angeles RamsFearsome Foursome” defensive line of the 1960’s. Alongside Olsen was tackle Rosey Grier, who came from the New York Giants via trade for tackle Roger Brown, and defensive ends Lamar Lundy and David “Deacon” Jones, all four causing havoc and mayhem for all opponents.

Olsen played 15 seasons all for the Los Angeles Rams, never missing a game, was all-pro for 14 of those seasons garnering the Most Valuable Player Award in 1974, before retiring in 1976. He’s STILL the franchise leader in tackles with 915.

Olsen never played in a Super Bowl. He always was left one game short. Back then, the Rams could never get by the Minnesota Vikings, Dallas Cowboys, Green Bay Packers or Baltimore Colts with the Super Bowl on the line. Didn’t matter. More often than not, the inability of the offense to score at crucial times in championship games was the Rams Achilles Heel.

For many of you, Olsen is better remembered for his role as Jonathan Garvey on TV’s “Little House on the Prairie” and, later, starring in his own show, “Father Murphy”. Quite honestly, I never watched “Little House on the Prairie” or “Father Murphy”. I do remember his TV work as the pitch-man for FTD Florists and as Dick Enberg’s analyst on NBC-NFL broadcasts.

My fondest memories of Merlin Olsen are, as a little kid in the 1970‘s, about going to the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on Sunday afternoons in the Fall and watching big number 74 stuff opposing running backs forcing teams to pass which enabled him and guys like Jack Youngblood and Fred Dryer to terrorize opposing quarterbacks. That was the era of the second incarnation of the “Fearsome Foursome”. Olsen and  Larry Brooks were the interior defensive tackles with Youngblood and Dryer working either end of the line. Olsen IS the only link to both incarnations.

Back to the 70’s. It was an incredible time to be a Los Angeles Rams fan. Beginning in 1973, the Rams won an NFL-record seven straight NFC Western Division Titles. For the first four titles, Olsen was the leader on a Rams team that, defensively, would beat down opposing teams no matter what offensive super-star any team would challenge the Rams defense with. The Cowboys with Roger Staubach, Drew Pearson and Tony Dorsett. The Bills and O.J. Simpson. The Vikings with Fran Tarkenton and Chuck Foreman, the Cardinals and Jim Hart. The Steelers with Bradshaw, Swann, Stallworth and Harris. I’d always look forward to listening to the Rams Theme Song played by the Rams Band after big plays and wins. Was also fun to watch “Archy”, the ARCO Mascot, dance on the Coliseum scoreboard after big plays and scores. The following Monday morning, it was always a treat to re-live the game reading about it and cutting out the photographs in the L.A. Times and Herald Examiner sports sections.

I remember Merlin Olsen never danced after making a big tackle or quarterback sack never gloating over his victim like today‘s players seem to do as if it‘s part of the game. Many times Olsen would give his victim a helping hand off the turf and a pat on the behind. All the Rams defensive players followed his lead. Win or lose at the end of a game, Olsen was the first at mid-field to shake the opponents hands. Olsen respected the game and those who played it.

Olsen was genuinely a good guy on and off the field. The first TV interview I conducted as a broadcast journalism student was with Merlin Olsen. He was taking part in a celebrity fund-raiser golf event in Buena Park, California. To tell you how long ago that was………Ronald Reagan was President.

Needless to say, I was excited and extremely nervous to be interviewing one of my childhood heroes. Luckily, it wasn’t a live shot. I completely blanked. We turned off the camera excusing myself all the while to Mr. Olsen. He chuckled a bit and in a deep voice said to me, “No problems. We’re just having a nice conversation.” That’s what we had. A nice conversation.

Now, before interviewing anyone, especially kids, I remember looking up at Merlin Olsen, who was wearing a white golf cap that day way back when, and repeat what he said to me, “We’re just having a nice conversation”.

With his passing, I’ve lost another part of my childhood. The one where my father, brother and I would watch Merlin Olsen and the Rams at the Coliseum. What’s amazing to me, in this world of social media networking, I know I’m not the only one who’s lost a member of the family with Olsen’s passing.

On FaceBook, there’s a group called “Bring Back the Los Angeles Rams”.  A group detailing stories of Autumn Sunday afternoons at the Coliseum and Anaheim Stadium when the Rams were thee sports team here…and hope there could be more memories in the future. Will it happen. Who knows.

In the meantime, you can find tributes to Merlin Olsen on that group’s page. That’s what’s sad. Only on that group page can they be found. We can’t go to the West Pico Boulevard Office of the Rams, across the street from the Rancho Park Golf Course. It no longer exists. We can’t go to Rams Park in Fullerton. It no longer exists. I suppose we can go to the Coliseum and put together a “memorial shrine” to Olsen near the Peristyle end of the stadium. Would anyone care.

The Rams left for St. Louis 16 years ago. Had they still called Los Angeles home during that time, Olsen and his “Fearsome Foursome” mates would have been celebrated in front of a packed stadium on one of those glorious L.A. Autumn Sunday afternoons. It never happened and it never will. Olsen and Lamar Lundy are gone. Rosey Grier, “The Deacon”, Jack Youngblood, Fred Dryer, Larry Brooks and Cody Jones are still around. But, we can’t pay tribute to these guys because Autumn Sunday Afternoons at the Coliseum with the Rams and the NFL no longer exist. That’s a disgrace.

But, along with the L.A. natives in the group “Bring Back the Los Angeles Rams”, I’m fortunate enough to have memories of those great times, great Rams teams and great players like Merlin Olsen. The rest of you missed out.

Maybe Roger Goodell and the NFL should think about having a pre-season game at the Coliseum with the Rams, playing in the blue and white throwbacks, taking on the San Francisco 49ers and hold pre-game and halftime ceremonies celebrating Merlin Olsen and the Fearsome Foursome.  Better still, instead of having a regular season game in London, have it in Los Angeles at the Coliseum with the Rams, wearing blue and white throwbacks, taking on the 49ers and hold pre-game and halftime ceremonies celebrating Merlin Olsen, the Fearsome Foursome and the Los Angeles Rams.  One game couldn’t hurt. Bet it’d be a sell-out. It’s a “no-brainer”. Maybe that’s too obvious and RIGHT for the NFL Suits to do.

Rest in Peace, Merlin Olsen. Live long in our hearts and memories along with the Los Angeles Rams and those glorious Autumn Sunday afternoons at the Coliseum.

Los Angeles Can Get Back in the NFL Game, Now!!

Am I the only “Native Los Angeleno” that’s irritated the National Football League has an annual regular season game overseas in London, England….in a foreign country? I remember hearing the NFL made this happen to expose the “NFL Product” to untapped markets. Didn’t know London was in the running or even wanted an NFL Franchise. If I’m not mistaken, didn’t WLAF aka NFL Europe FAIL. Wasn’t “We LAF” a financial blunder by the NFL. Weren’t the London Monarchs in “We LAF”.

Quite honestly, Los Angeles is the untapped market the NFL should be investing its time, effort and “product” to BEGINNING WITH THE UPCOMING 2010 SEASON.  The Los Angeles Sports & Entertainment Commission, along with L.A. County & City Officials, should be on the phone EVERY DAY pestering NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and the 32 league owners, until all are tired of hearing it and get the message. BRING THE NFL BACK TO LOS ANGELES, NOW!

Local lobbyists need to drive this point home. An L.A. NFL Team will help boost the currently sagging local economy and expose the game to kids who have missed out on seeing NFL stars, some who played collegiate football at USC and UCLA, live and in person. Oh, and the league will make $$$ too. That’s the name of the game, isn’t it?

Los Angeles needs to make the “NFL Suits” understand LOS ANGELES is the place to have the annual regular season football game, with the short-term goal of having a financially strong NFL franchise with a solid fan base in the greater Los Angeles area.  Not in a foreign country located across the Atlantic Ocean.

AMERICAN FOOTBALL IS OUR GAME. Keep the “NFL dollar” flowing at home. I could care less about the British Pound and Wembley Stadium. If the league wants to have ONE annual regular season game in an old, dumpy, past its prime stadium….have it right here at the Coliseum until L.A.’s new, state-of-the-art stadium is built. Los Angelenos deserve that much. As a matter of fact, instead of heading overseas during the pre-season as well, the NFL should, also, consider having a pre-season game or two right here in Los Angeles or Pasadena.

The NFL is the most popular Sports & Entertainment ticket in the country. With it comes people spending dollars. That stimulates local economic growth for employment opportunities, small & large businesses, the city and the state. People like to be “where the action is”. They’ll spend their hard-earned money where that action is.  The “NFL Action” needs to be right here in Los Angeles.

“Bloop Singles”

*Did you know the NFL NETWORK, owned an operated by THE NATIONAL FOOTBALL LEAGUE, has its MAIN STUDIOS in CULVER CITY…..in LOS ANGELES COUNTY. Yet, it hasn’t had an NFL franchise in Los Angeles since the 1994 season when the Rams and Raiders called L.A. home?

*Did you know the FOX NETWORK’S NFL PRE-GAME & POST-GAME SHOWS are broadcast out of a STUDIO right here in LOS ANGELES. Yet, there hasn’t been an NFL franchise in Los Angles since the 1994 season when the Rams and Raiders called L.A. home?

*So, let me get this straight. LOS ANGELES, THE COUNTRY’S SECOND LARGEST TV MARKET, THE ENTERTAINMENT CAPITAL OF THE WORLD, is a worthy enough place to produce and broadcast studio shows licensed by the National Football League. However, L.A. isn’t good enough to have an NFL Franchise? HYPOCRITE$!!

Super Bowl XLIV (44)

Sun Life Stadium – Miami, Florida

NEW ORLEANS SAINTS (NFC 15-3) +5 vs. INDIANAPOLIS COLTS (AFC 16-2) OVER/UNDER 56.5pts

Plenty of story lines in this one. New Orleans’ “First Family of Football”, the Manning’s, will be pulling for Indianapolis and the Colts second Super Bowl Title in four seasons because, of course, quarterback Peyton Manning is Archie’s son. Archie, of course, is the former Saints quarterback who’s been with the Saints organization for 39 years, now as a broadcaster. In case you were wondering, he won’t be in the radio booth Sunday.

The Saints will be making their first Super Bowl appearance in the 43 year history of the franchise. Just five years after Hurricane Katrina ravaged the “Big Easy”, quarterback Drew Brees and the Saints are carrying, not just a team, the entire city of New Orleans and surrounding areas that were devastated by the storm.

OK. Let’s look at the numbers because this game could be like a “pinball machine” going crazy with bells ringing and points flying. The Saints have the league’s top offense averaging just under 32 points per game. Brees was the league’s top rated passer throwing for 4,388 yards and 34 touchdowns. The Colts ranked seventh overall in offense scoring 26 points per game. Manning was right behind Brees throwing for 4,500 yards and 33 touchdowns. The advantage could go to the Saints because their running game ranked sixth in the league while the Colts’ ranked dead last. The Saints averaging about 131 yards a game using a trio of backs featuring former USC Heisman Trophy winner, Reggie Bush. The Colts only averaged about 80 yards a game on the ground featuring LSU product Joseph Addai who was effective in the “Red Zone” scoring 10 TD’s off the run putting him sixth in the league. So far this post-season, Indy hasn’t scored on the ground relying on Manning’s golden arm while the Saints have totaled three TD’s from land in the playoffs.

Defensively, both teams are classic “bend, but don’t break” teams allowing yardage between the 20’s and tightening up when opponents get in that red zone.  The Colts have been impressive during the playoffs after ranking eighth in scoring defense during the regular season giving up an average of 19 points per game. They’ve pretty much shut down both the Baltimore Ravens and, after allowing yardage and two touchdowns in the first half, dominated the New York Jets in the AFC Championship shutting them out in the second half.  But, all-pro defensive end Dwight Freeney is going to be hampered because of a severely sprained right ankle that occurred against the Jets.

The Saints ranked 20th in the league during the season allowing 21 points per contest.  The Saints like to gamble on defense and are opportunistic having forced 39 turnovers during the regular season and seven during the playoffs. New Orleans Defensive Coordinator Gregg Williams likes to go after the quarterback. They knocked a couple of future hall-of-famers out forcing Arizona QB Kurt Warner out of the divisional playoff game and into retirement, then ganging up on Minnesota’s Brett Favre. The Vikings amassed double the yardage the Saints totaled in the NFC Championship. Five turnovers were the difference.

It’s hard to go against Peyton Manning and the Colts because Manning is a surgeon on the field cutting up the league’s best defense for 377 passing yards and three TD’s in the AFC Championship. But Brees and the Saints can light it up as well. So, it’s about the defenses. Because Freeney, the Colts monster pass-rusher, will be much less than 100%, I think the Saints’ opportunistic defense might have the edge and will come at a third straight future hall-of-fame QB with a bull-rush causing turnovers which, ultimately, will be the difference in the game. That plays right into New Orleans’ hands. This game will be something like, 43-38. A Colts turnover or two will be the difference. SAINTS, 43-38.

MISSED PLAYOFFS: LOS ANGELES*
*15 years, 22 weeks and counting.  Expect a big announcement in the next week or two about Los Angeles returning to the NFL as early as next season.

Remember, use my picks to wager $$$ at your own risk. If you lose, I had nothing to do with it. If you win beaucoup $$$, a 10% tip would be cool.  But, I’m realistic. This is just for your entertainment…or not, and for me to keep my sports “mojo” going until “I’m back in the saddle”. Remember the league’s unofficial motto…“ON ANY GIVEN SUNDAY, MONDAY, THURSDAY, FRIDAY OR SATURDAY“…………

“Bloop Singles”

What an incredible Hall-of-Fame class that will be inducted in Canton, Ohio in the Summer. The “Magnificent Seven” features two of  the greatest who ever played the game.  San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Jerry Rice, who also played for Oakland, Denver and Seattle in his 20 year journey to three Super Bowl Titles and becoming the all-time leading  receiver in history. Dallas Cowboys running back Emmett Smith, who finished his career in Arizona, won three Super Bowls as well and is the all-time leading rusher in league history.

Joining them for induction August 7th at the Hall, former New Orleans Saints linebacker Ricky Jackson, former Washington Redskins offensive lineman Russ Grimm, Denver Broncos running back Floyd Little, Minnesota Vikings defensive lineman John Randle and Pittsburgh Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau.

Two glaring names didn’t make this year’s cut. Wide receivers Tim Brown of the LA/Oakland Raiders and Chris Carter who played for the Philadelphia Eagles and the Minnesota Vikings. Sure shots for the class of 2011.

No Kobe. No Bynum. No problem. Remember. Lakers coach Phil Jackson calls the 82 game regular season the “marathon” that prepares you for the “sprint” that is the playoffs. No worries.

I don’t know about you. But, to me, Super Bowl Sunday is the TRUE end to the Holiday Season. ENJOY!!

Eric’s NFL Conference Championship Game Picks

LAST WEEK: 1-3 (4-4 overall)

AFC CHAMPIONSHIP GAME

#5 NEW YORK JETS +7.5 @ #1 INDIANAPOLIS COLTS (over/under 39 points)
-Safe to say the Colts won’t “tank” this re-match while Jets players should hug every Colts player prior to kick-off for this opportunity to play for a shot at the Super Bowl. The Christmas Gift was delivered December 27th when, with a 14-0 record, home-field secured for the playoffs and a 15-10 lead over the Jets, who needed to win to keep post-season hopes alive, Colts coach Jim Caldwell pulled all his starters in the third quarter. Jets jumped at the opportunity scoring 19 unanswered points for a 29-15 win.

Don’t be fooled. The Jets belong. They’ve won seven of their last eight including the two playoff wins thanks to the league’s best defense and top running game anchored by that monster offensive line. Over the last eight games only the Colts have scored more than 14 on New York. Rookie Jets Head Coach Rex Ryan has his team playing patient football, evident in last week’s division win over high-powered San Diego. Aided by some Chargers missed field goals, New York’s defense surrendered just seven points through three quarters frustrating the Bolts. Meanwhile, on offense, the Jets rookie tandem of Sanchez and RB Shonn Greene “broke” through a worn-out Chargers defense scoring 17 straight on their way to a 17-14 win. In the two playoff wins, Greene’s carried the rock 44 times for 263 yards and two touchdowns while Sanchez has completed 24 of 38 passes for 282 yards, two scores and a pick.

QB and MVP “St. Peyton Manning” and the Colts are 3-0 in the post-season against Rex Ryan defenses beating the Baltimore Ravens the previous two post-seasons with Ryan as their defensive coordinator. Ironically, the Colts beat Baltimore, 20-3 last week to get to the title game against Ryan’s Jets and will be much more patient against the New York’s “D“ than the Chargers. Looking at stats, the Colts should be the logical under-dog in this one ranking last in the league in rushing, 7th overall offensively, and 24th against the run, 8th overall defensively. A little deceiving because those stats are reflective of what happens between the 20’s. The Colts rely on the pass to get to the end zone but once they get inside the “Red Zone”, they can punch it in with RB Joseph Addai who ran for 10 scores during the season tying him for sixth overall. Obviously, Manning’s Golden Arm and speedy receivers are thee “WMD‘s” for the Indy Offense. Jets all-pro DB Darrelle Revis can only cover one guy per play. Colts defense can play the run when it has to. They only gave up 87 rushing yards to the Ravens last week, after Baltimore ran all over New England the week before, and 307 total points during the season, 7th fewest in the league. They have to stop New York’s ground game and make Sanchez beat them. Colts have one of the top pairs of all-pro defensive ends in Dwight Freeney (13.5 sacks) and Robert Mathis (9.5 sacks). Jets better be able to run or Sanchez will be in trouble.

Anyway, did you know this is the first time a conference championship game features a Super Bowl Re-Match? Yup. Before the AFL-NFL merger in 1971, the heavily-favored Baltimore Colts represented the NFL losing to Joe Nammath’s AFL Jets, 16-7 in Super Bowl III in Miami. In another ironic twist, the winner of Sunday’s AFC Title Game earns a trip to Miami for Super Bowl XLIV. Did you, also, know Jets rookie QB Mark Sanchez has as many playoff wins as Nammath did his entire career (2.…Nammath’s Super Bowl win‘s counted as a Championship game win). Sanchez will have to wait and win at least two, if not three, more playoff games to have a shot at a Super Bowl.
COLTS, 16-7 (just for fun).

NFC CHAMPIONSHIP GAME

#2 MINNESOTA VIKINGS +3.5 @ #1 NEW ORLEANS SAINTS (O/U 52.5 pts)
-THE BIG EASY’S GONNA BE ROCKIN’!!! The season’s two highest scoring teams going at it for a berth in the Super Bowl.

Vikings QB Brett Favre became the first 40 year old QB to win a playoff game in Minnesota’s 34-3 win over Dallas last week. Here’s what’s even more incredible. In his storied 19 year hall-of-fame career, that was the first time Favre threw four touchdown passes in a playoff game. He’s loving life because he’s got so many offensive weapons. Favre throws to Sidney Rice, who caught three of those four TD’s last week, NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year, Percy Harvin (barring a migraine) and TE Visanthe Shiancoe who caught 11 TD’s during the season. Oh! I forgot. Favre can also hand it off to 1,000 yard rusher Adrian Peterson who tallied a league-leading 18 rushing touchdowns this season. He’s the difference to me because Peterson can take pressure off Favre’s shoulders by taking off against the league’s 25th ranked overall defense. That’ll open up the passing game.

Defensively, the Vikings are maliciously quick and fast. DE’s Jared Allen and Ray Edwards combined to sack Cowboys QB Tony Romo six times last week and were in his face for 25 of his 42 pass attempts. The Vikings led the league with 48 sacks during the season with Allen topping the league with 14.5. That’s key.

Saints QB Drew Brees also has some incredibly potent weapons. WR’s Marques Colston and Robert Meachem both scored nine TD’s during the season. He’s also got TE Jeremy Shockey from THE U. He’s got running backs Reggie Bush, Mike Bell and Pierre Thomas who all scored at least five TD’s as well during the season. Brees is going to have to pass quickly to these guys to avoid the Vikings pass rush. Bush had a stellar game in last week’s 45-14 win over Arizona. But that was against a Cardinals defense that became the first team in playoff history to allow 45 points in consecutive post-season games. Vikings “D” is a different story.

As for the Saints “D”, they were able to disrupt immobile Cardinals QB Kurt Warner last week with a bull rush because he’s a “stay at home pocket passer”. Not Favre. He creates on the run and can kill you in or out of the pocket…even at 40 (BTW, if I were Favre, I‘d picked up the option on the second year of his contract and come back next year. I say, let him play as long as he can and has fun). If Saints DT Sedric Ellis can stop Peterson and force Favre to make bad throws, which he’s done before, then the Saints secondary, led by Favre’s ex-Packers teammate Darren Sharper (also a former Viking) can take over. 11 different Saints secondary defenders combined for 26 interceptions during the season. I see Adrian Peterson having a huge day opening up the Vikes “O”. But, the Saints are at home in the SuperDome, so they’re going to be able to work some quick passes for big gains.

Anyway, Brett Favre won his only Super Bowl ring in the SuperDome leading Green Bay to a Super Bowl XXXI win over New England. The “Big Easy’s” hosted nine Super Bowls. But, this will be the first time it’s hosted the NFC Championship game. This will be the Saints second NFC Title Game appearance in four years having lost to the Bears in Chicago in 2006. Sticking to my NFC pick and score.
VIKINGS, 30-27 in OT.

That means it’ll be INDIANAPOLIS against MINNESOTA in the Super Bowl February 7th. But, wouldn’t be too surprised if the JETS and/or the SAINTS were headed to Miami. I’ll just stick with the VIKINGS and COLTS.

MISSED PLAYOFFS: LOS ANGELES*
*15 years, 20 weeks and counting. Expect a big announcement the week after the Super Bowl about Los Angeles returning to the NFL as early as next season.

Remember, use my picks to wager $$$ at your own risk. If you lose, I had nothing to do with it. If you win beaucoup $$$, a 10% tip would be cool. But, I’m realistic. This is just for your entertainment…or not, and for me to keep my sports “mojo” going until “I’m back in the saddle”. Remember the league’s unofficial motto…“ON ANY GIVEN SUNDAY, MONDAY, THURSDAY, FRIDAY OR SATURDAY“…………

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