The power of words

In a scene lifted from "Groundhog Day," the leader of the semi-free world, NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue, stepped forward this week to declare that the league would surely like to have a definite plan for a stadium and a team in the greater Los Angeles area, sooner or later, give or take, and let's make it 2008 just for the heck of it.

That sound in the background? That would be the screws turning in places like Indianapolis and San Diego and, oh, two or three other markets that have become the regular whipping boys of this sadistic process.

They say that what goes around comes around, but in the case of Tagliabue and the NFL and L.A., it just goes around and goes around. The nation's second-largest television market has been without a team in Tha League since 1994, and although you'd have a heck of a time proving that Los Angeles misses it, it's a fairly safe bet that the NFL does.

Thus, this utterly familiar scenario, with the commissioner saying something about an L.A. stadium "decision" just vague enough to stir the usual pot of recriminations and fear in San Diego and Indy and (maybe) New Orleans and (perhaps) the Twin Cities -- places where the NFL situation is not utterly settled to the contentment of, ahem, management.

Los Angeles may, indeed, someday welcome back pro football in all its John Facenda glory. In the meantime, the stadium proposals -- in Carson, at the Coliseum, at the Rose Bowl -- have become so much fodder for Tagliabue's public-relations cannon. He sends a little sonic boom every once in a while, designed as much as anything to tweak those other perceived "weak-link" cities into action.

The threat is clear enough, of course: Build your teams their shiny new stadia or risk losing them to the Los Angeles market, sooner or later, give or take, and how does 2008 sound, anyhow?

And while this is a notion that resonates particularly in Southern California, you can hear echoes of the threat all the way to Indiana and beyond.

The Chargers' on-and-off nightmare negotiations with the city of San Diego have by now been chronicled to a mind-numbing excess. Suffice it to say, it ain't pretty. The Spanos family wants a new place to play, the city doesn't especially feel moved to pay for it, threat, threat, "It isn't our first choice to relocate," yadda, yadda -- you know the drill.

But, look, the sword cuts just as cleanly for the Indianapolis Colts, once of Baltimore, who know from sudden moves. Now it's Jim Irsay, son of Bob, who is casting severe doubt on his team's ability to continue to compete in its current situation -- and, given that the man has fairly strong ties to L.A.'s entertainment industry and a membership at the Riviera Country Club, you don't have to be a Colts fanatic to perceive the underlying dynamic at play.

Irsay was quoted at one point as saying of a potential deal to keep the franchise in Indiana, "I'm 44 years old. I'm not signing until I'm 74 years ... unless I know we have a strong, long-term plan."


And here's Irsay in the L.A. Times: "Since we have been there (in Indianapolis), we have seen the corporate world going backwards, losing some key corporations. As we're looking at the studies, it's really questionable if a new stadium can solve the dilemma ... It's more, how much can you keep putting your own money into your franchise with no hope of seeing things change?"

As someone once said in a movie whose title I can't remember (but, hey, it was probably filmed in L.A.), "You hear that, counselor? That's a threat." Indeed it is, and with Tagliabue stoking fires for the vacant Los Angeles market, the implication is clear enough: Indy can come up with a plan to build a facility that doesn't cost the Irsay family much of its "own money," or it can deal with the spectre of moving vans -- in broad daylight, this time.

All in all, Angelenos haven't appeared too terribly deprived in their lives without a local NFL team. They aren't restricted by the league's dreaded "local blackout" TV rules. They see most of the best games being broadcast. And they've always got the Raiders up in Oakland if they need something to get worked up about.

Sooner or later, though, they'll get a team again. Oh, there's no rush. We're talking four or five years from now, assuming Tagliabue really means it this time, as opposed to the last several times he has spoken of a franchise in Los Angeles. And we're not talking specifically about starting from scratch, since the NFL wouldn't seem to be in a big hurry to put itself at an imbalanced 33 teams by adding a brand new one in L.A.

No, what we're really talking about here is pressure -- not on Los Angeles, which has no team, but on those other markets, which already have teams but can't bring themselves to make their franchise owners swimmingly thrilled every day of the week. The owners have a friend in Paul Tagliabue -- yesterday, today, tomorrow. It's time to tighten the screws in the NFL, which makes it Groundhog Day. Again.

Mark Kreidler is a columnist with the Sacramento Bee and a regular contributor to ESPN.com