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Friday, September 17, 1999
Houston, Texas
Volume 65, Issue 19

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Houston, we don't have a problem -- we have an NFL team, thanks to Bob

Sports Opinion

Josh Gajewski

Houston is back on the football map. Whether NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue likes it or not, Bob McNair will soon be a proud football owner. It will happen -- McNair just won't have it any other way. 

Last Sunday, the other starved city was rewarded as Cleveland celebrated the return of its beloved Browns. The event was oh so special.

TV personality Drew Carey opened the ceremonies with a few choice words and the introduction of the players. There were lights, fireworks, planes -- you know, the whole nine yards. Then it was time for kickoff.

OK, so things weren't exactly storybook here. The Browns were blanked 43-0 in front of a national audience to their old rival Pittsburgh, of all teams. But the "Dawg Pound" could care less. They came to see football, and that's it. That's what they got and that's all that mattered.

Sure, Tagliabue tried to avoid returning to the Bayou City. Los Angeles was the sexy pick from day one, and let's face it -- it made sense. We're talking about 

Tinseltown -- the land of stars, the second-largest media market in the country (and second-largest city). It was putty in Los Angeles' hands if they had shown interest, but needless to say, the powers that be weren't the sharpest tools in the shed.

The NFL even went so far as to say that it would lend money to Los Angeles to help finance a fancy new home. But to whom would they lend it?

To this date, it's not even clear-cut which group would own the potential team. While the groups fiddled on their futile matters, there was McNair, proudly displaying a model of his fancy new dig, a 73,000-seat stadium equipped with a retractable roof and all the elegant amenities to accompany it.

Tagliabue set deadlines for Los Angeles. It was a formal thing, I guess. Nothing was ever accomplished as target dates were pushed back again, again and again. Tagliabue's friends in the owner fraternity questioned Houston's ability to sell out games in regard to the scarce crowds that attended during the Oilers' lame duck years. McNair fired back again, guaranteeing sellouts for six years.

The importance of landing the next NFL franchise cannot be underestimated. It will be the 32nd franchise and, most likely, the last time the league will expand for a long, long time. The next addition gives the league the nice, round number of teams it desired ever since Cleveland created the scheduling disaster of having at least one team idle each and every week.

The latest deadline delay came this week. A Sept. 15 date to recommend a city for expansion was pushed back, to no one's surprise. The next decision, or delay perhaps, will come in the beginning of October.

The likelihood of Los Angeles coming through with a viable plan in the next few weeks is pretty remote, considering what little they've accomplished in the past year.

But what if disaster strikes and Tagliabue gets what he really wants? What if the loose screws on the West Coast actually do come through with something concrete that's good enough to satisfy the members of football's elite?

Not to worry. McNair will not lose. If denied a franchise, he will head straight to the league's struggling owners who are willing to field offers in hopes of relocating a team to Houston.

The bottom line is that without Bob McNair, Houston would be nowhere in the race for the NFL's final franchise. There would be no need for Los Angeles to meet deadlines, there would be no controversy as to where the new football stadium would be located and Houston's lasting impression of professional football would be the grubby paws of Bud Adams, the blue devil himself.

In other words, football life in Houston would be pretty pathetic. But have no fear. With McNair in our corner, we simply will not lose.

As in Cleveland, football will soon return to a place where it truly belongs and only because of the efforts of a relentless man. After the numbing effects of Adams, it's about time this city lucked out with someone who won't take no for an answer.

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