Saturday, September 3, 2005
New Orleans almost certainly will not play at home this year
OAKLAND, Calif. -- The New Orleans Saints accept the fact they're in for a season unlike any other, one that will test their emotions, patience and resolve daily.
They realize they could be leading a vagabond existence all year, going from one hotel room to the next. But they're not about to start feeling sorry for themselves now considering the death and devastation thousands of their neighbors have faced this week.
With their city in shambles after one of the country's worst natural disasters, it will take months, if ever, for New Orleans to rebuild after Hurricane Katrina.
The Saints left the Bay Area after Thursday night's 13-6 loss to the Raiders in the teams' preseason finale and flew all night to San Antonio. It is there, at the Marriott Riverwalk, where the organization will locate for the foreseeable future.
Quarterback Aaron Brooks was hardly complaining. He was well aware how much worse it was for those back in New Orleans.
"This just a nightmare for anyone," he said. "You never want to wish this on anyone. This is ludicrous, it's crazy. You have to overcome it. It's tough because there are going to be a lot of lives lost. There are going to be a lot of hard feelings from it all, but you've got to have faith and you've got to be strong."
The Saints got the weekend off to reunite with family members all over the country before returning to work Monday, when they will begin a normal in-season practice schedule and preparations for their season opener Sept. 11 at Carolina.
But their season will be anything but normal. They almost certainly won't play a game in New Orleans this season.
Receiver Joe Horn vowed to spend Friday in Houston helping a refugee family with everything from new clothes, to basic personal supplies, to a hot meal. Other members of the Saints clearly needed a mental break from it all, which seemed impossible.
"First hand, it's tragic," safety Steve Gleason said. "I think a lot of guys wanted to go back a couple days ago and just help, all we wanted to do was help somehow. Our opportunity is going to come when we can help New Orleans. Our job is to bring some joy to our city now that it is dispersed across the country."
Gleason's girlfriend's family lost its restaurant supply company that had been around for almost a century. Now, the future is bleak.
And Gleason hasn't heard from seven teenagers who are part of his foundation. His organization takes students from inner-city high schools and teaches them to interview, write and take photos in order to produce a book about their neighborhood and all the people who make it run.
He hopes it's just because of the trouble everyone is having getting through by phone.
"This is going to be a hard year," coach Jim Haslett said. "We're going to be gypsies. We don't know where we're going to live, where we're going to stay, where we're going to be playing. We'll deal with everything. We'll be fine."
Team support staff looked forward to the arrival of a truck to the team hotel in San Antonio carrying as many supplies as could be salvaged from franchise headquarters in what was the Big Easy: computers, media guides, pens, and other equipment. Not to mention scouting reports on upcoming opponents, as well as on players who could become available.
The Saints accomplished one thing Thursday on the field: they limited the Raiders to 61 yards rushing, even if Oakland's starters only played one series.
"As a football team, we're not looking for any handouts," said Brooks, who was among several regulars who got the night off. "We know it's going to be difficult, we know it's going to be hard. We're going to be fine and we're not going to use this as a crutch and say, 'Feel sorry for us and let us win this football game.' We're going to remain true to ourselves, stay as one as a football team."
The Saints know that's what the fans want. About 25,000 people turned out Thursday to watch the Saints on TV in the Houston Astrodome, which is expected to be the temporary home to thousands of refugees for months.
"The key thing is they need to know we're behind them, and I truly believe they feel that," Brooks said. "Second of all, we want to go out there and shed a lot of blood, sweat and tears. We feel like that is our civic duty."
Even the Raiders had a hard time staying focused as they prepared to open the season with a nationally televised game at Super Bowl champion New England next Thursday.
"It's just crazy," Oakland's Chris Carr said. "This is worse than 9-11, with everything that's going on with that."
The Saints, meanwhile, are bracing for uncertainty.
"I think we pretty much know it's going to be a long road," Gleason said. "Obviously, we don't really have a home. We've pretty much made a decision as a team that as much bad stuff that's going on in New Orleans, we're one part of New Orleans that is able to continue to do the things we can do. If there's any hope we can bring, any enjoyment we can bring to the people of New Orleans, that's what we want to be.
"There are going to be ups and downs all year. One thing we all talked about, no matter how tough and frustrating it is for us to have no home games or be on the road for the next five or six months, it doesn't even compare to what these New Orleans natives are going through. It's our city. We see this as our opportunity to shine on New Orleans."