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Alas, L.A. sees NFL from afar


LOS ANGELES -- I don't know if I can wait until 1998.

That is the projected date for a new team to play in a new stadium here in Los Angeles. It was proposed this week by NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue. What he didn't mention is what we were supposed to do in the meantime.

I thought I wouldn't miss professional football. I was wrong.

No, I don't miss the Raiders. That would be like missing rowdy neighbors. When the Raiders came here, we all embraced them, but then we saw how dirty we got.

I actually admired some aspects of their organization. The Raiders were tough. They hit hard. They took no guff. And Al Davis would spend money to fill his roster with talent.

But what I do not miss are the fights in the stands, the arrogance, the antagonism (especially toward the media or anyone else who challenged them with the truth) and the inability to beat anybody of significance when it counted.

And no, I don't miss the Rams. When I would see Georgia Frontiere on the sidelines, I often wished she would sell the team to someone with more football knowledge and public-relations know-how, such as Leona Helmsley or Babe the pig. To us, the Rams represented a rich history of gridiron lore here in Southern California. To Georgia, they represented cars, homes, vacations and endless outfits.

No, I don't miss them at all.

But Sunday afternoon in Oakland, I saw what we will be missing.

The scoreboard is a lonelier place now. There are no hometown teams to root for, or against, or just to observe clinically. Every score is an out-of-town score.

I shuddered when I heard that Steve Young got hurt in the Niners-Saints game. I was aghast when I learned that Heath Shuler was injured in the Redskins' opener. I couldn't believe that Pittsburgh's Rod Woodson might miss the season with a knee injury.

All the football news from around the league that I used to observe as a resident of a participating city now feels foreign, like I'm stationed at an army base near the Arctic Circle and I'm fed occasional doses of football to make me feel as though I'm still part of the human race.

I'm not sure the rest of Southern California feels the same way, but I know there are pockets of sympathizers. Some of them actually donned "Oakland Raiders" T-shirts and flew from here to the Bay Area to get their fix. And a lot of them watched football, too.

I miss walking through the parking lots as the twin fragrances of barbecue and gunpowder waft along. I miss seeing shirtless men with black bandannas being wrestled to the ground by security. I miss guys holding up cardboard signs that read "I Need Tickets" when virtually thousands are still stacked neatly in the box-office kiosks.

I miss traffic jams. I miss being told I can't park in the lot I've parked at every Sunday for years. I miss fans dressed from head to toe in NFL-approved merchandise with scrapbooks in one hand and pens in the other as they await the arrival of the team bus so they can have the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity of being told by an honest-to-goodness professional football player, "I said NO! Now get outta my face!!!"

I miss the peep of the crowd. I miss closed-door meetings to discuss how to stop the downward spiral into despair and embarrassment -- after every game. I miss the cool bands that played lively, up-tempo numbers that made me dance and sing and reminded me just how lucky I am to live in a society where this kind of joy is possible.

I miss hits out of bounds. I miss blown coverages. I miss fumbles. I miss players being carted off the field -- after warm-ups. I miss fans being carted off the field after running onto the field and being swarmed by LAPD.

These are just some of the things I'll miss.

In smaller cities, there isn't much going on, so football is paramount. In Los Angeles, we have Paramount, along with Warners and Universal, et al. We have live music and theater, big-budget films and underground cinema. We have beaches, mountains and desert. We have parks, museums and gourmet restaurants.

What we don't have is NFL football. Woe is us.

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