A case for Hurricane Katrina saving the New Orleans Saints

T. Benson.jpgThe fifth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina has provided a chance for many people in and out of New Orleans to reflect on those dark days in 2005, and to take stock of how the city has recovered since.

The pro football team is at least one New Orleans institution that is undoubtedly on stronger footing now than it was before the levees broke.  Jeff Duncan of the New Orleans Times-Picayune makes the case on Friday that Katrina saved the Saints franchise.

We recommend checking out Duncan’s entire column, which makes the argument more completely than we can.  Duncan recalls how perilous the team’s status was before the storm.  Owner Tom Benson was openly flirting with other cities, and he was fighting with state officials.  Rumors of a L.A. move dogged them, and ticket sales sagged with Aaron Brooks leading the team on the field.

When the team returned to New Orleans after it’s nomadic post-Katrina season spent largely in San Antonio, there was no guarantee the Saints were back for good.

“There are a lot of things yet to be accomplished to make it more than a one-year arrangement,” NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue said at the time.  (Tagliabue’s commitment to New Orleans should go down as part of his legacy.)

In the five years since, the Saints have accomplished so much. 

The Superdome will practically be brand new next year.  The team is committed long term to the city. And of course, the Saints put together their two best seasons in franchise history in 2006 and 2009, culminating in a Super Bowl title.

Duncan rightly says the biggest heroes in this story were the fans.  With the city’s population ravaged, they started buying tickets again like crazy in an act of faith — even before Drew Brees or Sean Payton came aboard.

In a sometimes unrecognizable New Orleans, the Saints became more familiar. Those remaining in the emptied out city embraced the team like never before, holding on tight to make sure another New Orleans landmark wasn’t washed away.