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NEW ORLEANS FANS WORRY THAT SAINTS MAY MOVE TO L.A.

If losing a football team could be compared with a terror alert, then New Orleans Saints fans are in Code Orange mode this week.

Saints owner Tom Benson has been hoping for years to get Louisiana officials to spring for a new stadium to replace the 30-year-old Superdome. However, it has become obvious that the state is in no financial condition to build a new NFL playpen. Benson conceded as much this week and laid out some severe terms for a new Superdome lease deal with the state.

However, it's looking unlikely the state can sweeten the pot. Gov. Kathleen Blanco said any additional money for the renovations or a new Saints contract "should be generated in the greater New Orleans region" and not by the state as a whole. The city government is even poorer than the state.

And Benson set a deadline of Feb. 1 to strike a new contract.

It's an example of how hard it can be to keep a team in a city that has economic troubles.

Who knows how it's going to play out? Benson's deadline is his own creation. But New Orleans fans suddenly are worried their team is the top candidate to pull up stakes and move to Los Angeles.

The L.A. card is the obvious play for any owner trying to pressure government officials to get a new stadium deal.

L.A. is the No. 2 television market in the United States. New Orleans is the fourth smallest in the NFL at No. 42. Buffalo is No. 44. Jacksonville is No. 52. Green Bay is No. 68.

"I don't want to move. I don't want to sell," Benson said. "We have three choices: We can build a new stadium; extend and enhance our current agreement; or tell us to leave. And we have to do this by early next year."

The current agreement allows the Saints to leave after the 2005 season by repaying the $81 million they received during the first four years of the agreement. The state can opt out of the deal after 2007 if officials don't want to continue to pay the annual inducements, which rise to $23.5 million in 2008 and stay at that level until completion of the deal in 2011.

Those incentive payments total $186.5 million for 10 years ending in 2011. The payment for this fiscal year was $15 million. But the state had to borrow $7 million from a special economic development fund last year to make half of the $15 million payment to the team.

The proposal the Saints want Louisiana to approve by Feb. 1 includes $186 million more to renovate the Superdome, the building of a $10 million tailgate park near the stadium plus several other real-estate-related developments. The annual cost to the state would rise considerably over the roughly $20 million a year it's paying now. Just how much it would rise is a debate among accountants.

But the state can't afford the current deal, let alone a sweeter package.

Manning watch

Colts quarterback Peyton Manning is so hot he got his own Wheaties box this week with receiver Marvin Harrison on the back. Manning has 31 TD passes, four ahead of the pace of Miami's Dan Marino, who threw for a record 48 in 1984. Manning has a soft stretch forthcoming, starting today with Chicago, followed by Detroit on Thanksgiving, Tennessee and then Houston.

Manning has 31 TD passes in nine games. The Bears have thrown 31 TD passes in their last 37 games. The Bills have 32 in their last 36 games.

Meanwhile, Bears linebacker Lance Briggs guaranteed victory over the Colts today - for whatever it's worth.

Bears defensive end Adewale Ogunleye is taking the approach that it's better to kill them with kindness.

"Peyton right now, just watching him, he's as close to a football god as there is," said Ogunleye.

Adams is champ

Bills defensive tackle Sam Adams is the king of semi-pro football. Adams' East Side Hawks defeated the Central Penn Piranha, 53-28, Nov. 13 in the championship game of the North American Football League. The game was played in Orlando, Fla.

The Hawks, based in suburban Seattle, finished the season 17-0. They're coached by former Seattle Seahawks defensive back Nesby Glasgow. The Piranha is based in Harrisburg, Pa.

"It was very satisfying," Adams said. "My boys did it - 17-0. They worked very hard. Nesby's a good coach and he did a great job. I was on the (cell) phone the whole game on Saturday except when I was in meetings."

Adams said he's working on getting a couple of his players tryouts in the NFL or NFL Europe.

Adams now sets his front-office management sights on a bigger game. He's the owner of a new indoor football team, the Everett (Wash.) Hawks, who begin play in March in the National Indoor Football League.

QB maneuvers

Dallas coach Bill Parcells snuffed out talk this week of starting rookie Drew Henson.

"The other player gives us a better chance to win," Parcells said of Vinny Testaverde. "We are trying to win here. We are not running a tryout camp. It's as simple as that."

Vinny Testaverde has 11 touchdowns, 11 interceptions and an 84.4 rating.

Washington, meanwhile, goes with third-year man Patrick Ramsey over Mark Brunell today. It's no surprise since Brunell had a QB rating of 0.0 last week. However, it's a rarity for coach Joe Gibbs. In his 12 previous seasons with Washington, Gibbs benched his quarterback just three times (Jay Schroeder for Doug Williams twice in 1987 and Jeff Rutledge for Stan Humphries in 1990).

"I'm reluctant to make a change there, but at this point I felt like it was the smart thing for us to do," Gibbs said.

Browns woes

Among the many factors bringing down Browns major domo Butch Davis is his 2001 draft. Top pick Gerard Warren is an underachieving defensive tackle who incited the Steelers last week by saying he would go after the head of QB Ben Roethlisberger. Warren has nine tackles all season. Receiver Quincy Morgan, the second pick, underachieved and was traded for Antonio Bryant. Running back James Jackson, the third pick, was waived.

Onside kicks

Pats offensive coordinator Charlie Weis has sworn off his pass-happy ways so far this year. In the eight games Corey Dillon has played, the Patriots have run the ball 262 times and dropped back to pass only 252 times.

Green Bay's Brett Favre has been sacked just five times in nine games. The league record for a full season is Miami with just seven in 16 games in 1988.

The AFC has eight teams that are at least 6-3. The NFC has two that are better than 5-4. The AFC leads the NFC, 23-15, in interconference games. The AFC has been .500 or better against the NFC for eight consecutive seasons.

Injuries continue to drag down Tennessee. Strong safety Tank Williams tore up a knee and is out for the year. Free safety Lance Schulters is out long term with a foot injury.

Backup quarterback Kordell Stewart was AFC Special Teams Player of the Week after he replaced punter Dave Zastudil and averaged 35.4 yards on five punts, two inside the 20. Zastudil separated his left shoulder while getting blocked on a punt. Stewart won't be the punter this week, though, because the Ravens signed Nick Murphy to handle the job.

e-mail: mgaughan@buffnews.com