© St. Petersburg Times, published January 26, 2003
SAN DIEGO -- Starting next year, the NFL no longer will jump from the conference title games to the Super Bowl without a bye week because of a revised scheduling format.
Three seasons ago, the NFL moved its opening of the season to the weekend after Labor Day. Because the Super Bowl date for the 1999 season was locked in, the league had to drop the bye week.
Many players and coaches who have participated in Super Bowls without a bye week liked not having a break because it gave them less time to think about the game.
Last season, a bye week was scheduled, but the league suspended play the week after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The bye week was eliminated to keep the playoffs intact.
But the bye week will return in 2004, pushing back the Super Bowl to the first week in February.
VENUS VS. MARS?: A lot of women will watch the Super Bowl today. More than watch the Academy Awards. More than watch figure skating in the Olympics.
According to Nielsen Media Research, an estimated 37.614-million women (about 43 percent of the audience) watched part of last season's game.
The corresponding number for the women's figure skating final was 26.118-million. For last year's Oscars, the number was 25.793-million. In both cases, women were clearly the majority of viewers.
League officials say that about 40 percent of the people in the seats at regular-season games are women and girls.
RETURN TO L.A.: The NFL will return to Los Angeles. Commissioner Paul Tagliabue did not say how. He did not say when. But he sounded convincing in his state of the NFL address Friday.
"We want to be back in Los Angeles," he said. "And we are working toward that goal."
Los Angeles has not had a franchise since the Raiders fled to Oakland and the Rams to St. Louis before the 1995 season.
Expansion is one possibility, especially if a bid were to emerge backed by a state-of-the-art stadium.
If moving an existing franchise to Los Angeles turns out to be the answer, then the Chargers appear to be the most viable candidate. They are trying to work out their differences with San Diego. The commissioner said he would rather the Chargers stay put.
THEY STILL WATCH: Los Angeles residents have responded to not having a team by pulling up a chair, cracking open a few cold ones and drowning their sorrows in a fog of televised images of what used to be theirs.
Los Angeles remains obsessed with the NFL. It's a national condition, of course. The NFL has ruled the airwaves for years. But in a region that currently boasts the reigning World Series and NBA champions, the average NFL telecast in Los Angeles in 2002 drew more viewers than the average Anaheim Angel and Los Angeles Laker telecasts combined.
During the 2002 regular season, NFL games on ABC, CBS and Fox drew a 9.5 rating in the Los Angeles market. Because each rating point represents 53,542 households, that means games were seen in an average of more than 500,000 homes. Lakers games drew a 6.0 rating and Angels telecasts 2.4.
It is Los Angeles Dodger territory, or so the stereotype has held for the past 40 years. Yet in 2002, Dodger telecasts garnered an L.A. rating of 3.3, barely a third of the NFL figure.
Hockey? The hometown Kings and Ducks pulled in local ratings of 1.1 and 0.4.
OVERHEARD: "The only problem with having the Super Bowl in California is thanks to Gov. Gray Davis, the state is so broke, they can't find a coin to flip for the opening kickoff," said Tonight Show host Jay Leno.