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Future of the New Orleans Saints in Limbo

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Future of the New Orleans Saints in Limbo

Sports

Future of the New Orleans Saints in Limbo

Future of the New Orleans Saints in Limbo

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The New Orleans Saints have played their first home game in Louisiana since Hurricane Katrina. Even before the storm, team owner Tom Benson had been threatening to move the team. Sunday, Benson met with city, state, and NFL officials about the Saints' future.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Yesterday's football game between the New Orleans Saints and the Miami Dolphins was worth noting, not because either team is all that good but because it was the first Saints game in Louisiana since Hurricane Katrina. Some fear it may also be one of the last. NPR's Luke Burbank reports.

LUKE BURBANK reporting:

Saints fans have already put up with a lot this season. They've had to trek to places like San Antonio and New Jersey to watch their team's home games. At those games, they've cheered wildly, even though the Saints' play has often been less than stellar. But the last straw for some, like Justin Fortenberry, is talk that, after all that, the Saints still might actually leave New Orleans for good.

Mr. JUSTIN FORTENBERRY: The Saints can leave but there is no city that's going to support a losing franchise for 30 years like New Orleans did. Every game they were sold out. Every game they sell their merchandise and what do they do? They don't ever bring anything worth a crap on the field, ever.

BURBANK: And Fortenberry considers himself a fan. That's why he was tailgating before the Saints game outside Louisiana State University's Tiger Stadium, where the Saints will play four games this season. Even before it was damaged by Katrina, team owner Tom Benson had long been complaining about the Saints' regular digs, the Superdome. But now, thanks to a natural disaster clause in the team's contract, there's a chance Benson could largely walk away from the dome and the city, a prospect Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco does not find appealing.

Governor KATHLEEN BLANCO (Mississippi): But I think people need a sense of hope that we can come back to normalcy. Normalcy means that we've got a football team called the Saints, that people love to hate and love to love.

BURBANK: Blanco spent the hours before the game in emergency meetings with Benson, New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin and NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue, who said it's still too early to tell what will happen, though he hopes the team will stay.

Mr. PAUL TAGLIABUE (NFL Commissioner): And our focus continues to be on having the Saints in Louisiana and today's game and the other upcoming games, the next three games here at LSU are a big part of that effort and that commitment to Louisiana.

BURBANK: According to Tagliabue, the league is considering subsidizing the team for a while if necessary. But what he didn't address was the NFL's long-standing desire to put a team in Los Angeles, a huge media market that could mean a big payday for NFL owners, especially owner Tom Benson, who was not exactly Mr. Popular when the game finally did kick off.

(Soundbite of ambient noise)

BURBANK: Inside the stadium there was a banner that read, `Benson is a carpetbagger.' Security eventually took it down. Then there was Jeff Cialino(ph) standing about 10 feet behind the Saints bench.

Mr. JEFF CIALINO: I have a Grim Reaper outfit, you know, and I had a sign that said, `I'm coming for you, Benson.' They took it away from me.

BURBANK: Which meant Cialino had nothing to distract him from what was happening on the field, namely another loss for his beloved Saints.

Luke Burbank, NPR News, Baton Rouge.

INSKEEP: By the way, a trumpeter from New Orleans will be the star of a parade tonight far from his home city. His name is Glenn Hall III. His home was destroyed by Katrina, not to mention his trumpet, and he is 10 years old. Now he has a new horn and he will play it tonight as grand marshal of the Halloween parade in New York City. He says the donated trumpet is better than the one that he lost and he is among a number of hurricane survivors who plan to fill New York with song.

(Soundbite of music)

INSKEEP: This is NPR News.

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