For the second time in five years, the Green Bay Packers will begin their season in Jacksonville, Florida.
Of course, this time it wasn’t by design. Because of Hurricane Ida, the New Orleans Saints are unable to host this Week 1 game at the Caesars Superdome as originally intended.
For the second straight year, the Packers dodge one of the NFL’s most unwelcoming venues for visiting teams. Understanding the difficult road to recovery New Orleans and the surrounding region faces, everything about this relocation process to Jacksonville seems … off.
Originally when it became clear New Orleans could not host, all signs pointed to AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas as the most sensible destination for this game. The Cowboys won’t be there as they open Thursday at Tampa Bay, and the Saints have already relocated to Texas until their own facilities are playable again.
But naturally the NFL had to scratch that idea because of a conflict with the band Los Bukis, who is holding one of four stops on its reunion tour this Wednesday at the Cowboys’ stadium.
That’s right. The NFL — one of the biggest businesses in the world — had a plan undone by a band that hasn’t released a hit album since Aaron Rodgers was in kindergarten. Come on, this isn’t U2. Three full days should be more than enough time to reset the stadium following a concert.
Anyway, once it was clear that AT&T Stadium wasn’t the option, the NFL gave the Saints some leeway to determine another preferred site.
According to Times-Picayune columnist Jeff Duncan, several different factors played a role in coach Sean Payton and general manager Mickey Loomis choosing Jacksonville, among them:
– the flight cost from Green Bay to Jacksonville was more expensive for fans than Miami or Tampa Bay, two other southern cities that were considered to host, to dissuade Packers fans from attending.
– the Packers are 3-4 in the state of Florida during Rodgers’ starting tenure, with the quarterback owning a brutal 78.1 passer rating in those seven games.
The gamesmanship from Payton and Loomis is appreciated and adorable. One does wonder though if they looked up their own starting quarterback’s career numbers in Florida (Jameis Winston-led teams are 16-21 in that state). Or the fact that the Packers are 3-1 all time in Jacksonville, bucking the notion that this cold weather team can’t handle the heat.
And concerning Rodgers, were the Saints aware that three of his Florida losses occurred more than 10 years ago? And that his last game in Jacksonville resulted in a three-touchdown performance and win for Green Bay?
It’s admirable, in a sense, that the NFL allowed the Saints to attempt to recoup some home field advantage outside of New Orleans. But let’s be honest: anywhere that this game would be played, if it’s not the Superdome, is going to have a pro-Packers crowd.
So why this half-measure? Why not hold the game at Lambeau Field instead? Obviously Lambeau meets all the NFL’s requirements unlike a college venue, it’s available, and it actually provides one of the participating teams with a legitimate financial boost (it’s been estimated that the city of Green Bay lost $150 million in potential revenue during the mostly fan-less 2020 season).
Sure, the Saints would’ve been unhappy about relenting a home game. In 2005, when the Superdome was unavailable because of Hurricane Katrina, the Saints played in East Rutherford as the “home” team and lost to the Giants by 17 points.
To alleviate those concerns, why not adjust a future matchup between these two teams? This time, play the game in Lambeau with the Packers as the true home team, and then next time the schedule rotation dictates the Saints come to Green Bay, play it in New Orleans.
Instead the Saints and NFL chose this farcical home field, that benefits no one in particular aside from the city and team that willingly gives up home games to play in London.
There was no perfect answer to a natural disaster. But it’d be nice for once if the NFL ditched its dogmatic ways in favor of common sense.