- The Washington Times - Friday, June 24, 2005

In the midst of the battle between New Orleans owner Tom Benson and Louisiana officials over who’ll pay for the proposed renovation of the 30-year-old Superdome, it turns out Saints fans are the most unrewarded in the NFL where victories are concerned.

Research by Jeff Duncan of the New Orleans Times-Picayune shows that New Orleans has averaged a league-high 76,098 fans a victory during its 38 seasons. Cleveland is second at 75,721 and Detroit third at 75,434. Not coincidentally, those three cities — along with Phoenix (Arizona), Houston and Seattle — are the only ones to have had a franchise for more than a decade and never reach the Super Bowl.

New Orleans’ average attendance of 60,935 ranks 13th, ahead of Green Bay, Minnesota, New England, Oakland, Pittsburgh, San Francisco and Washington, which have combined for 32 Super Bowl appearances and 21 titles. This despite the Saints’ one victory in the playoffs and the second-lowest winning percentage (.409) of any franchise, excluding the three-year-old Houston Texans. Arizona and Atlanta, whose winning percentages are almost identical to New Orleans’, have attracted millions fewer fans.

Benson and other Saints officials declined comment on the Times-Picayune story, but Benson can brag the Saints are .483 with six playoff berths during his 20 seasons of ownership compared to a woeful .310 and no postseason appearances during 18 previous years.

“Unfortunately, ticket buying is not the sole criterion in determining whether a community retains an NFL team,” said Marc Ganis, president of SportsCorp, Ltd., a Chicago-based sports consulting firm that works closely with the NFL. “There also needs to be corporate and political support for a city to be a viable location for an NFL franchise in the 21st century.”

Which is why the Saints remain a prime candidate to fill the NFL’s longstanding void in Los Angeles.

“Olive Ball” on rise — Interest in football in China, where it is known as “Olive Ball,” is growing so quickly that the NFL’s 10-team Flag Football World Championship will be played in Beijing in August. More than 40,000 children in 84 schools in China’s three largest cities — Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou — have been introduced to the sport during the last three years. A Chinese team participated in the event in 2004 for the first time, beating South Korea and tying Germany.

“I just met a youngster in Beijing who was as big and strong as me,” said 6-foot-6, 252-pound Philadelphia tight end Chad Lewis, who speaks fluent Mandarin, after a May clinic there. “In a country of 1billion people, future players are out there. All they need is an opportunity and the heart and desire to make it.”

NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue practically promised a preseason game will be played in China in the near future.

“The real question is when and where, and just how to best show the positive aspects of the [sport],” Tagliabue said.

Family history to boot — Kansas City relied on bloodlines in taking the rare step of picking a punter in the third round in April’s draft. Dustin Colquitt followed dad Craig, later with Pittsburgh, and cousin Jimmy, later with Seattle, as the University of Tennessee’s punter. The Chiefs like Colquitt’s quick release, hang time, distance and left-footedness — for the opposite spin it gives the ball — and also his background.

“Having a father who has played in the league, with all the things that go on mentally, Dustin’s got someone he can fall back on,” said special teams coach Frank Gansz Jr., himself the son of a coach.

You are so beautiful? — Eagles linebacker Dhani Jones, from Montgomery County’s Churchill High School, was named one of People magazine’s “50 Hottest Bachelors” of 2005. Jones, 27, was the only team sport athlete picked.

Jones, who designs his own line of bow ties, said his favorite look combines a bow tie and shorts with flip-flops or Birkenstocks. Nice.

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