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NFL Sunday outtakes: Do Los Angeles sports fans even want the NFL to return?


LA CRESCENTA, Calif. -- Leo Lesh is from Corning, but he has been a sports-bar owner in the Los Angeles area long enough to express a native's conflicted feelings about the NFL.

In one breath, Lesh can't fathom how the nation's second-largest market doesn't have an NFL team. In the next, he laments the obvious reason.

"Can somebody tell me why we don't have two teams?" Lesh said recently at Leo's All-Star Sports Bar and Grill. "It's ridiculous. With the money in this town, how can they not organize something?

"But even if a team does come here, I'm not sure they'd support it."

Lesh was one of the many people I interviewed for Sunday's feature about the NFL in Los Angeles. I examined why the Buffalo Bills aren't a fit there despite generational fears they would move to Southern California when Ralph Wilson died.

I stopped by Lesh's spot to learn what a local businessman who depends on sports thinks about not having the NFL in his back yard.

"The NFL is why you have a sports bar, really," said Lesh, who still has a summer cottage on Keuka Lake. "Football season is when we make our money."

One might assume an L.A. football team would boost sports businesses around town.

L.A. is different.

As legendary Los Angeles Raiders defensive lineman Howie Long told me, L.A. is an "Ellis Island" market, where so many people come from elsewhere and have "allegiances with other cities."

Among the joys of being an NFL fan in Los Angeles is never worrying about a blackout. A team in Los Angeles would threaten an environment that makes so many people happy.

That's considered a major reason why locals haven't galvanized any semblance of community support for an NFL encore. Too many people are pleased with the status quo.

And if an NFL team were to return to L.A., then how easy would it be to sell out the games and eliminate blackouts? The region's track record suggests that would be difficult.

"I think they would accept a football team as long as it's a winner," Lesh said. "If you don't have a team that's kick-ass, people bail on it.

"In Buffalo, you can clean the snow out of your driveway or go to the Bills game. Out here, you have the beach, the mountains. You can go skiing, hiking. There's so much more to do."

Besides, the NFL is plenty huge in Los Angeles without a team.

Lesh said his bar's best night in a while was for the NFL draft. That's a whopper of a statement, considering the Los Angeles Clippers, Los Angeles Kings and Anaheim Ducks all played in the postseason.

"The NFL draft was the busiest night we've had in a month," Lesh said. "People even want to see preseason games. People call all the time in the preseason, wanting to know what games we'll have on."

The biggest crowds at Lesh's bar belong to the Green Bay Packers, Denver Broncos and San Francisco 49ers.

The area's diverse NFL interests also were reflected at Pro Image, a sports apparel store at Glendale Galleria.

On a wall of NFL jerseys, the Dallas Cowboys were represented by the most players, three. About a third of the jerseys were throwbacks for players such as Bart Starr (didn't play in L.A.), Jerry Rice (didn't play in L.A.), Jack Ham (didn't play in L.A.) and Eric Dickerson (who did, but this was a Colts version).

On the adjacent wall hung nine different Kobe Bryant jerseys.

"This city needs a team," Lesh said. "But do they want a team? That's a difficult question.

"If they wanted a team badly enough, we'd already have one."

  • Hal Jam

    How hard would it be to add two expansion teams if the NFL wanted teams in LA and Toronto? The NFL loves blackmailing taxpayers for new stadiums too much to put a team in LA.

    • magicman2276

      34 teams would be problamatic for scheduling. The NFL never stays at a weird number for very long. You'd realistically have to get to 36 to make it work.

  • bluefire

    The people actually born in LA and southern california want a team, the transplants like this writer and the bar owners of course don't want one team dominating the tv's.

    • Francis Paul Ganon

      Sounds like a struggling bar owner's last attempt to stay open. As for the writter, he thinks LA wants his Bills and has been on an anti-LA rampage.

  • J.J.

    Its not about the LA lifestyle -- that there is more to do on a Sunday than go sit and watch a football game. It's the fault of LA and California government. The politicians in this state want to be bribed and they want the new owner and the NFL to pay for everything. LA has a sluggish economy, over-sized government and fitting an NFL team (or two) in to the landscape is not in the master plan at all. These are the fools who let Hollywood get away. Do you think they have a strategy for the NFL? No. LA looks exactly like it has for 25 years or more. There is nothing new on the landscape except for that Billion-dollar train that goes nowhere.

    Bad oversized government. And a tamed populace.

  • Francis Paul Ganon

    graham is officially an idiot!

  • Francis Paul Ganon
  • magicman2276

    The NFL has benefited from not having a team in LA for 2 reasons. 1. It's a shot across the bow to every city with a franchise. If a city the size of LA can lose a franchise, anyone can. 2. LA acts as the NFL's 800 pound trained gorilla standing in the corner of the room threatening other cities to build stadiums. They've been highly effective in this role the past 20 years.

  • jaytrain

    Apparently the thousands and thousands of raider fans everywhere only like the raiders when they win. Lol love yah howie but wrongo. That was our home team and we are still holding on even after they abandoned us and have been losing for 15 years.

  • Richard Taylor

    I was born in LA. I grew up here. Most of the people I knew growing up, and now, also were born here and grew up here. I think that's the majority. People who move here meet other people who move here and they think that's the majority.

    As for supporting a team, I lived and died Rams and Dodgers until the Rams moved to Orange County. People who aren't from here think the entire megalopolis is all LA, but it's not. When natives Angelenos talk about LA, they're talking LA County, which is a far bigger and more identifiable entity. When NYers talk NY, it's not Manhattan, its all five buroughs (and it's certainly not NJ). Here, it's LA County.

    The Rams and Raiders left during an era when cities would build stadiums for them so they could bask in the reflected glory of an NFL team. Any team that plays in LA, that's a privilege because we don't need you, so you pay your own freight. Nobody pays the Dodgers, the Lakers, the Clippers, the Kings, the Ducks except when they purchase a ticket. That's the way it should be. If you don't believe that it's a privilege to play here, you're free to move to St. Louis which doesn't have a strong enough self-identity to resist NFL extortion. That Stallions stadium they built on spec was converted quickly into a Rams venue, and is now obsolete because greed never sleeps.

    This article reflects a non-LA bias, reinforcing many of the presumptions some folks have of a place they don't know well. LA is not lalaland, it is not Hollywood, it is not Hipsterville, all of those are stereotypes expressed by people using shorthand who don't understand the language of shorthand.

    Finally, the Bills is one franchise I cannot imagine anyone moving from Buffalo. The Bills, the Browns, the Packers, the Steelers, all identified with their cities. If the Bills were purchased and moved to LA, or anywhere else, the team would have to be rebranded. That would be a sad day for Buffalo, as it was for LA when its team, the Los Angeles Rams, was stolen and taken to STL.

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About the reporters

Vic Carucci returned to The Buffalo News as a Bills beat reporter in September. Carucci covered the Bills for 17 years before joining as a columnist in 1999. Prior to rejoining The News, he spent three years as a senior editor for the Cleveland Browns.

Tim Graham returned to The Buffalo News in 2011 after covering the NFL for three years at ESPN and for one year at the Palm Beach Post. Before that, the Cleveland native spent seven seasons on the Buffalo Sabres beat for The News and was president of the Boxing Writers Association of America.

Jay Skurski joined The News in January 2009. The Lewiston native attended St. Francis High School before graduating from the University of South Florida.