CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- If the NFL awarded franchises on the basis of need, Charlotte would get one.

All the things people say about there not being a lot to do here -- they're right. We have an NBA team, an Arena Football League team, a street named after an evangelist and many churches. We have restaurants, but not many ethnic restaurants, and we have bars, but no neighborhood bars. We don't have neighborhoods.

We need the NFL. The NFL needs us.

If the NFL puts teams in Baltimore and St. Louis, the excitement will be muted. You had teams. You lost them. You're like those veterans who, long after their skills have eroded, pathetically move from team to team, unable to gracefully walk away.

Everybody, however, likes new blood. When the NBA sold teams to Charlotte and Miami in 1988, the excitement was tremendous. It was like two hot rookies coming into the league.

George Shinn, the Charlotte businesssman who bought the Hornets, could have been elected mayor. If he wanted, he could have been appointed king. The Hornets have sold out 23,698-seat Charlotte Coliseum almost every night since their inception. That makes some sense now; the Hornets are a playoff team. But their first four years, they were terrible, and they still led the league in attendance.

If the NFL puts teams in Memphis and Jacksonville, the excitement won't be muted but neither will the laughter. Memphis is a great place, but once you leave town, civilization stops. Memphis isn't ringed by cities of 100,000 within a 2 1/2 -hour drive the way Charlotte is. Memphis lacks the numbers -- people and money -- to make a franchise go.

And Jacksonville is one of the worst cities in the United States. It's a Georgia city in north Florida. Take the best of Florida and the best of Georgia and Jacksonville has little of either.

Baltimore or St. Louis will get one team, Charlotte the other. The NFL wants a team here. That's been clear for years. Whether the owners do, we'll find out Tuesday. By then, the league should be able to get in one more shot at the candidates.

Let's see: They've raised the price of a franchise, decided we get only half the lucrative TV money for three years and don't get to keep the money from the sale of team jerseys, caps and pencils with little helmets on the end for 18 months.

The NFL has us. But we have it. Right now, the NFL is a league in which players change teams the way girls change partners at a junior high school dance. The NFL is a league in which stars get hurt every week. The NFL is a league in which the Atlanta Falcons play.

The league needs a jolt, and to get one it needs to sell Charlotte a team. The Hornets are not just the only major-league franchise in Charlotte and the Carolinas; they're the only major-league franchise between Washington and Atlanta. This is fertile, unclaimed territory in which the NFL can do nothing but thrive.

We have lots of money but little to spend it on. And we won't just support a team. We'll embrace it. Here's an example of how much.

The stadium in which the Charlotte -- I'm sorry, the Carolina -- Panthers will play is, at the moment, a big hole in a chunk of red clay. A not very friendly street person lives there.

To fill the hole with a 72,000-seat stadium, the family trying to buy the team -- the Richardsons -- had to insist that fans pay for the stadium.

So he sold not just season tickets, but the right to buy them. If you think about it, his request was absurd. You do not buy the right to buy groceries or clothes or Hornets tickets.

Fans paid anyway. Some fans paid right away. Others whined about the cost of the seat licenses and then paid. In all, 49,724 fans bought the right to buy a seat.

Around the hole in which the stadium will be built if Charlotte gets a team, there is nothing. If we get a team, the stadium will spawn stores and shops and bars and restaurants.

Maybe we'll even get a neighborhood.


There's less than a week to go before the NFL chooses from among Baltimore and four other cities for two expansion franchises. This week, The Sun is having a columnist from each of Baltimore's rivals write about why his city deserves one of the teams.

* Today: Charlotte

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