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Support for Saints dramatically increases as New Orleans recovers from disaster

After Katrina, the fans shine

September 24, 2006|By Alex Marvez | Alex Marvez,South Florida Sun-Sentinel

Like other former and current New Orleans Saints players, Miami Dolphins right guard Kendyl Jacox gushes about the rabidness of Saints fans.

Unfortunately, the costliest national disaster in U.S. history was needed to truly show it.

While Saints running back Deuce McAllister recently said that New Orleans residents are born with "black and gold in your blood," many didn't want to spend their green to support the franchise after four consecutive seasons without a playoff appearance. The Saints had sold only 30,000 season tickets for the 2005 campaign before Hurricane Katrina pounded the Gulf Coast last summer.

That number has more than doubled for this season, leading to the first sellout of all season tickets in the Saints' 40-year history despite the area's economic problems. The franchise is even starting a waiting list for future season-ticket sales.

"You would tend to think people don't have the money now to buy season tickets," said Jacox, who played with New Orleans from 2002 to 2005. "I can't explain how you go from 30,000 to [68,324 season tickets]."

The reason is smart moves on and off the field combined with the impression made when local residents saw what Sundays would be like without an NFL franchise after the Saints split last season's home games between Baton Rouge, La., and San Antonio, Texas.

The high-priced additions of rookie running back Reggie Bush and quarterback Drew Brees in the offseason showed a financial commitment to winning by Saints management that wasn't nearly as pronounced in previous years. Owner Tom Benson, who had flirted with moving the Saints before Katrina, also earned brownie points by agreeing to keep the franchise in New Orleans at least through the end of its Louisiana Superdome lease in 2010.

But the groundwork for the resurgence was laid in Katrina's aftermath.

Saints players, many of whom lost their homes and treasured belongings, showed they were part of the community's fabric through a slew of benevolent gestures ranging from visits to financial donations.

Plus, the Saints provide an appealing distraction to those living in a rebuilding region, especially after a 2-0 start.

"We give these people something to cheer about for three hours," McAllister said. "[It's] something to think about instead of wondering if they're going to continue to haggle with their insurance people or have to continue to work on their home."

Katrina-generated flooding caused Jacox to lose his New Orleans-area house and the flat-screen television that McAllister had bought him and other Saints offensive linemen to celebrate a Pro Bowl berth. Jacox, though, said he will be glued to his new set for tomorrow night's game between the Saints and visiting Atlanta Falcons (2-0) that marks the first contest played in a renovated Superdome.

"My first couple of years there, I didn't know just how much the Saints meant to a lot of people there, but it is a very big deal to them," Jacox said. "It brings a smile to my face knowing they have it back. This is going to be a huge game."

Brees agreed.

"It's going to put New Orleans kind of back on the map again," Brees said. "People are going to see from the broadcast that this city is very much alive.

"These people are all about their team and their city. New Orleans is going to come back better and stronger than ever."

The Saints should feel proud knowing they have something to do with that.

Alex Marvez writes for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.

... and 10

Ten thoughts related to tomorrow night's Falcons-Saints game:

One

Brees better -- When the Dolphins traded for Daunte Culpepper instead of signing Drew Brees to a free-agent contract last March, the state of Brees' surgically repaired shoulder was a deciding factor. The Dolphins believed a veteran quarterback coming off a major knee injury like Culpepper was a safer bet than Brees, who had suffered major shoulder damage in the 2005 season finale while playing for San Diego.

Brees, though, has clearly made the quicker recovery for the Saints (2-0).

Just as encouraging for New Orleans is how Brees' shoulder responded to contact against the Packers. Brees weathered two blows that could have caused harm if his arm weren't sound.

two

Left or right? -- The negative for the Saints is that left tackle Jammal Brown was beaten on one of those sacks. Brown clearly is more comfortable at right tackle, where he played as a rookie last year. That makes the Saints' offseason trade of Wayne Gandy to Atlanta even more suspect, especially considering the high marks he has earned manning the Falcons' left tackle position.

three

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