Mayor, Saints owner to negotiate at season's end

SAN ANTONIO -- Mayor Phil Hardberger reiterated his resolve to bring the Saints to San Antonio permanently, saying he wanted to close the deal before next season begins.

Hardberger, while part of a sellout crowd to watch the Saints-Falcons game Sunday in San Antonio, said Saints owner Tom Benson agreed to serious talks with him, probably at the end of this season.

Benson "understands that we will sit down and talk," Hardberger said in a story in Monday's San Antonio Express-News. "That is his desire as well. I'm pretty comfortable in saying he wants to be here."

Attempts to reach Benson by telephone Monday were not successful. Greg Bensel, team spokesman, declined comment.

The Saints are under contract to play at the Louisiana Superdome through 2010 but certain provisions allow them to opt out before a Nov. 29 deadline.

Gov. Rick Perry watched Sunday's game with Hardberger from Benson's suite and said he agrees the Saints should relocate to the Alamo City and is open to the state offering some type of financial assistance.

Hurricane Katrina damage to the Superdome prompted the Saints to practice in San Antonio and play three games in the city's 65,000-seat Alamodome. Four other games were moved to Baton Rouge, La., where ticket sales have been sluggish.