LAS VEGAS - Ever obsessed with its image, the NFL worries mightily about being associated with America's favorite gambling playground. The league that gives us a linebacker who plead guilty to obstructing justice in a double-murder case as a video game spokesman (Ray Lewis), a wide receiver who apparently thinks he's still in high school in West Virginia where mooning was a refined art (Randy Moss) and a quarterback who's been dragged to court to defend his Playmate girlfriend against assault charges in a cat fight she had with an ex he admittedly cheated on her with (Jeff Garcia), is just way too pure to be ever linked with (gasp!) Sin City.
I mean, what about the children?
Understandably, the NBA is equally repulsed by the notion of being tied to Las Vegas. The league that's provided us with the joy of players leaping into the stands, the thrill of crowds pelting players with cups, beer, popcorn, spit and whatever else was found under their seats and the surprise fun of discovering that two of its biggest stars (Tracy McGrady and Vince Carter) almost merrily cop to not playing hard in a lot of games last season, is much too proper to ever consort with such outright debauchery.
I mean, what would Bob Cousy think?
It is all a joke of course, a shameless two-faced play on one of the great non-golf golf destinations in the world. Of course, Vegas is making it awfully easy for itself to be played, from its headline-addict mayor on down. Securing a major pro sports team has become Vegas' latest, loudest stalker fixation, replacing the must-have, high-roller, golf-course building spree of the 1990s. The same people who once argued that all Vegas was missing was some great golf are now arguing that all Vegas is missing is some great NFL or MLB or NBA games.
Well, guess what. Vegas is just fine the way it is.
People like it. When's the last time you ever heard anyone visiting Vegas say, "I just wish there was more to do. If only, I could watch the old Montreal Expos off The Strip!"
Pro sports needs Las Vegas more than Las Vegas needs pro sports. It's time for Mayor Oscar Goodman and his feather boa to realize this. Goodman's turned Sin City's drive for pro sports into his own personal publicity crusade, appearing on the cover of Sports Illustrated and practically jumping in front of any TV camera that happens into town, bearing props (showgirls, boas, neon).
Vegas is making itself out to be as desperate as the last 40-something divorcee at the bar again, willing to do anything to please. Everyone saw how that turned out in the golf course craze, leaving every big-name architect in existence smiling at the outrageous fee he received, while the average duffer found himself struggling to afford tracks that only recently started going through long-needed price leveling.
This isn't to say Las Vegas couldn't use pro sports. A franchise would add something to the city, just like all the new golf courses have. Neither one is a be all, end all, however. Not for Vegas. Picturesque golf courses and shiny new sports logos draw the same visitors that would be coming to Sin City anyway. They just give them another reason to tell themselves why they're coming.
There is a lot of talk now about how a pro sports team would bring the entire transplant community together, give the guy who moved in from Dallas and the guy who moved in from Indianapolis a common rooting ground. Of course, there was also a lot of talk in the '90s about how all those fancy golf palaces would be littered with local players and everyone's seen how that turned out.
"Ninety-five point nine percent of our players come from out of town and it's that way for almost all the courses we're competing against,'' said Joe Massanova, marketing director for TPC at The Canyons and one of the most truthful golf voices in town.
Face it, the transplanted Oakland A's would be for all the Vegas visitors, especially the high-roller visitors, just like everything else in town. Which is only one of the reasons Las Vegas should hold on to its dignity here. It would be one thing if the sports powers that be treated Sin City with respect. Instead NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue threatens court action to prevent the casino Super Bowl parties that are only favorites of his league's fans. And the Vegas leaders meekly turn the other cheek because the Arizona Cardinals might be looking to relocate in a few years.
Meanwhile, NBA head David Stern throws up his arms in theatrical shudder whenever the Maloof brothers broach the subject of an NBA team in their adopted hometown.
All for show of course. The only people who don't recognize the NFL is the most popular sport in America largely because it's the most gambling-friendly sport are those who still believe in the Tooth Fairy and those paid by Tagliabue to think otherwise.
Vegas deserves better than these hypocrites of opportunity. It turns out old Lady Luck may be the last honest city in America, admitting straight up in pulsating neon what it's all about. It's time for Vegas to call the bluffers' bluffs. Time to learn from getting taken in the recent golf craze.
Randy Moss might have the right idea after all.
January 14, 2005