The National Football League is coming back to Orange County - ready or not.
Seattle Seahawks owner Ken Behring said Saturday that he will move his NFL team to the Rams’ former practice facility in Anaheim, at least temporarily, and is negotiating to lease a summer training complex in Irvine, probably at the University of California, Irvine.
Behring said he hasn’t decided whether the franchise will open the 1996 season in Orange County or Los Angeles. But he said there is no chance the team will return to Seattle, come rain, snow or franchise-in-motion penalties.
“We’re bringing the players and coaches. We’re leaving our trophies, our legacy, behind,” Behring said in an interview with The Orange County Register. “I want this team to be the L.A. team, period. I want it to be named there. I want the colors to be chosen there.”
Behring said he has not spoken with representatives of Southern California football venues, which range from Anaheim Stadium and the Rose Bowl to unbuilt sites at Hollywood Park and Dodger Stadium.
John Loar, a spokesman for Behring, said Behring would be in Anaheim on Monday to meet with City Manager Jim Ruth and Mayor Tom Daly.
Southern California has been in the market for pro football teams since last year, when the Rams left Anaheim Stadium for St. Louis and the Raiders left the Coliseum to return to Oakland. But the NFL has said none of the existing stadiums in the area are suitable.
“There are still many issues to be resolved at the present time, but I believe that we can ultimately arrive at a mutually beneficial agreement that will bring football back to this area in a timely manner,” Ruth said in a statement.
Daly said Behring’s decision to change the team’s name, colors and logo signals “the team’s desire to reach out to Southern California fans right away.”
Bret Colson, a spokesman for Anaheim, said the city expects to consummate the deal this week to bring the team to Rams Park. He said Anaheim also will open formal negotiations with the Seahawks to have the team play its games in Anaheim.
In January, city officials announced plans for Sportstown, a billion-dollar urban entertainment complex that would be built on 174 acres of Anaheim Stadium’s parking lot. The city does not have funding for the project but Behring could be a potential partner.
Anaheim also is in negotiations with the Walt Disney Co. over renovating Anaheim Stadium to make it a baseball-only facility. If the renovation were to occur in October, after the baseball season, Anaheim Stadium, in theory, would not be available for the NFL season.
“As far as the Angels are concerned, we will meet their needs first,” Colson said. “There are a lot of questions and a lot of issues that still need to be solved.”
Colson said it “wasn’t out of the realm of possibility” that the Seattle franchise could be playing in Anaheim in 1996.
Anaheim city workers were busy Saturday sprucing up Rams Park in anticipation of the Seattle franchise’s arrival. The Rams practiced at the facility, a former elementary school on Lincoln Avenue, from 1979 until they left.
The Seahawks closed their training facility and offices in Kirkland, Wash., on Friday afternoon and reportedly told employees to take a week off.
Dan Guerrero, athletic director at UCI, said Saturday that the school has had feelers from people within the Seahawks organization about conducting a summer training camp.
“We have it organized so that we could accommodate the team on a relatively quick basis,” Guerrero said.
The NFL said Friday that it will still consider Behring’s team the Seattle Seahawks until the league meets to discuss the team in Chicago on Thursday and Friday.
Behring, who has criticized the increasing disrepair of the Seattle Kingdome, where the team played for its 20 seasons, believes his stadium lease - which has 10 years to run - was effectively nullified by a local government study showing that the stadium requires up to $90 million in repairs to withstand a potential earthquake. The Kingdome was built near a seismic fault.
“There was no way morally or economically we could have the liability that could be there,” Behring said. “I would not risk my players or fans.”
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