New Orleans Saints Search for New 'Home Field'

The New Orleans Saints pro football team lost Monday night in a game against the New York Giants. Though the game happened in New Jersey, it counted as a "home game" for the storm displaced Saints. Mike Pesca reports on the challenges ahead for the Crescent City's football team.

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ALEX CHADWICK, host:

This is DAY TO DAY from NPR News. I'm Alex Chadwick.

Not much to cheer about today for fans of the New Orleans Saints football team. Last night, the team played a quickly assembled game against the New York Giants. It was supposed to be the Saints home opener, but it had to be moved from the Superdome to Giants Stadium. This meant a Saints home game became an away game, just one more inconvenience for the team from New Orleans and its fans as NPR's Mike Pesca reports.

MIKE PESCA reporting:

No matter what the game is, fans will always tell you that it's more than a game. Sometimes that's clear when, for instance, Jackie Robinson broke baseball's color barrier. Sometimes politicians want it to be so, such as when John Kerry bounced a pitch at a Red Sox game before the 2004 Democratic convention, and when Republicans played a lengthy convention video of their own which centered on George W. Bush's successfully throwing out the first pitch during the 2001 World Series. Fans of the New Orleans Saints have a tortured but passionate history with their usually awful hometown team. This was true even in the week after the hurricane hit, as heard on the all-Katrina conglomeration of New Orleans radio stations.

(Soundbite of radio broadcast)

COREY(ph): You know, guys, I don't know if this is the time to bring it up, but Tom Benson, the Saints' owner, needs to know that, you know, Louisiana people need some kind of relief in the future. And I know football, Mardi Gras, things like that are entertainment and this is still a life-or-death situation here in New Orleans. I know there's a whole lot more going on out there; I know there is.

Unidentified Man #1: No, but I think--I think that you--you know, there's a lot of people who've been under stress and been sad, Corey, and are looking forward to this weekend.

PESCA: And so last night, after a week one win at Carolina, the Saints traveled to the New Jersey Meadowlands to play what was billed as a home game. Saints fan Darren Cooper(ph), a New Orleans native, was doing some pregame tailgating. He said that today's game would at least bring a momentary smile to the face of people of New Orleans, people like his dad, made homeless by the hurricane. According to Cooper, the Saints hold an exalted place in the hearts of Louisianans.

Mr. DARREN COOPER (New Orleans Saints Fan): Friday nights, we all diverge and we go to our respective alma maters and watch high school game. Saturday, we do split up around Tulane, LSU, SLU, Southeastern, Nicholls State, Monroe--I mean, all kind of different places. But the Saints are our community worshipping wheel on Sundays.

PESCA: Here in the Giants Stadium parking loot, Cooper's was one of the few Saints jerseys to be found. In fact, even though a few hundred tickets were given away to displaced Saints fans, when Philadelphia or Dallas come to town, you'd find more Eagles or Cowboys jerseys than you found Saints jerseys last night. Unlike a normal game, Saints fans did go largely unharassed, but there were pockets of ugly boosterism, such as this bunch of guys whose faces were painted Giants blue.

Group of Men: (Chanting in unison) Let's go, Katrina!

PESCA: Inside Giants Stadium, there were a few small Saints banners that looked like they had been borrowed from a local sports bar, and one end zone said Saints, the other said Giants. But these cheers...

(Soundbite of crowd cheering)

PESCA: ...were all for the Giants. The Giants cheers were not only louder, they were sustained because from the first time the Saints touched the ball--a fumble--to the last time the saints touched the ball--an interception--nothing went right for them in their 27-to-10 defeat. After the game, New Orleans quarterback Aaron Brooks said calling this a Saints home game was patronizing, and defensive end Darren Howard said given the makeup of the crowd, of course the Saints were the visitors.

Mr. DARREN HOWARD (Defensive End, New Orleans Saints): When it comes down to it, you know, there's 50, 60,000 New York Giants fans in the stadium. So it was clearly not a home game, and not that I'm saying that had an effect on the game at all...

Unidentified Man #2: Sure.

Mr. HOWARD: ...just our performance--if we were at home and we performed like that, we're going to lose also.

PESCA: That last part--which indicated that Howard would not use their circumstance as an excuse--was present on the lips of every Saints player and coach who talked about the challenge facing this team. It's hard to know if it was the normal dejection after a loss or that coupled with the weight of events that had the Saints locker room so down, the cramped visiting locker room, by the way, where reporters tripped over toweled Saints players, and where defensive back Mike McKenzie talked about the deeper meaning of losing home-field advantage.

Mr. MIKE McKENZIE (Defensive Back, New Orleans Saints): It's not only not playing at home, but it's the reason why you're not playing at home and the circumstances that happened, you know, with Hurricane Katrina. And, you know, you have a lot of people not at their home right now, not--don't have a home, you know, don't have food, don't have clothes and don't have a lot of stuff. So, you know, all that's tied into us not being able to pull back to New Orleans.

PESCA: But McKenzie added that the three and a half hours when the game is actually occurring is the one time when things become normal, or at least as normal as this strange game was. For Saints players and fans, the itinerant life resumes. Next week is a scheduled road game and then on October 2nd, the home opener. That, like this, isn't at home; this time it's in San Antonio, Texas. Mike Pesca, NPR News, New York.

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