LOS ANGELES -- San Diego is going nuts. Minnesota is going bonkers. Los Angeles is holding its breath.
Everyone is waiting for the next wingtip to fall.
Less than 48 hours after two big victories by the Chargers and Vikings, stories surface that indicate those franchises could be relocating to the nation's second-largest market, one that has been without an NFL team since the Raiders and Rams left in early 1995.
A radio station in Toronto reported AEG's Philip Anschutz, who is exploring the possibility of building an NFL stadium next to Staples Center, either has bought or will buy one-third of the Chargers. The implication: That team is not long for San Diego.
It took a while, but the Chargers denied that report late Tuesday, saying there's "no truth to the rumor that the Chargers have agreed to sell a portion of the team to Mr. Anschutz." For the moment, I'll leave it to others to parse the semantics of that statement for any possible interpretation. The Spanos family has never considered selling a controlling interest in the Chargers, only a minority share.
Meanwhile, in Minnesota, Lester Bagley, Vikings vice president of public affairs, revealed in an online chat that the franchise had been approached by the competing L.A.-area stadium groups -- representatives from AEG and Ed Roski's concept of a stadium in the City of Industry -- presumably looking to buy and move a team.
Does any of this mean we're dramatically closer to getting a team back in L.A.? No.
First of all, you can expect both groups have already kicked the tires on every potentially movable NFL franchise. They wouldn't be investing all that money, time and credibility in their stadium concepts if they didn't have as complete a picture of the landscape as possible -- Would you be willing to sell? All or part of the franchise? What's the price? How difficult would it be to uproot and move?
It would require a league vote for Anschutz to buy that share of the Chargers, and that hasn't happened. I don't believe it's imminent, either, although it could definitely happen at some point. Right now, that's a pass that's too telegraphed.
In a larger sense, the up-in-arms responses in San Diego and Minnesota -- and the ones sure to come in usual-suspect cities such as Jacksonville, St. Louis and Buffalo -- are another reminder of how L.A. has been more valuable to the NFL without a team than it ever was with two teams.
How do you get some instant love from your current city? Hint that you're moving to L.A.
The Chargers say they have not agreed to sell Anschutz a portion of the team. There is a chunk of the team for sale, however, and it's entirely conceivable that Anschutz might look into the possibility of buying an option in case the downtown L.A. deal were to come together. That arrangement would mirror the one he has with the Lakers, and he owns about one-third of them.
As part of a deal that would bring the Chargers to L.A., Anschutz would certainly want a stake in the team -- especially because that team's value would increase with a new stadium. But according to the people who know him best, Anschutz has never had an appetite to own a piece of an NFL franchise absent a new stadium deal, to own part of a team just to own it. Until there's a green light on a downtown stadium, he's not shopping for a team.
What's more, the NFL is not going to move forward on any relocations until it gets its labor situation sorted, and that could take the better part of a year.
That said, when the team owners and players do reach an agreement, the league could act very quickly on the L.A. front. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell will want to show right away that the league can "grow the pie" as it has promised, and the fastest way to do that is by taking a franchise that's financially underperforming and moving it to the No. 2 market.
Goodell has always stressed that the league wants to return to L.A. but only in the right way. That means keeping all stadium options open -- downtown, Industry, and maybe more -- while also leaving the team options open.
If we've learned anything from the NFL over these last 15 seasons, it's that the league won't be rushed on this. People might want you to believe it's first-and-goal for L.A. and a team is already packing the moving vans. Instead, it's about waiting.
We should be used to that.