NFL Sends Saints Home Next Season

The National Football League is sending the New Orleans Saints home next season. Crews are working furiously to make the Superdome ready by autumn. However, people in New Orleans may be reluctant to come back to the site of so much chaos and suffering in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

It's conference championship time in pro-football. This weekend, both conference title games will be settled with the winners meeting in the Super Bowl. Once again, the New Orleans Saints failed to make the postseason. The team, in its torn up city, did win a different sort of victory. The NFL is sending the Saints home next season and crews are working furiously to make the Superdome ready. NPR's Dianna Douglas has the story.

DIANNA DOUGLAS reporting:

On the cement floor of the Superdome, workers are carting brown leather couches from the luxury boxes into neat rows. It would look like a furniture showroom if the couches weren't ruined from stains and watermarks.

Mr. BILL CURL (Superdome spokesman): The NFL season starts in September. We'd like to be ready for the start of the season. It doesn't mean we've wrapped it up and put a ribbon on it, but we can still play football.

DOUGLAS: Bill Curl is a Superdome spokesman. Before anyone plays anything, they'll need to repair the roof, lay acres of fresh turf on the field and carpet in the halls, paint, hang new scoreboards and gut and fix the luxury boxes. Repairs are going to cost $140 million. With extras, it could run up to $180 million. Most of that money will come from insurance and from FEMA and Louisiana will pay the last 10%.

Mr. CURL: Certainly, we want the Saints back there. (Unintelligible) and bring that business to New Orleans is critical to the future of the city.

DOUGLAS: The NFL said the Saints will play all home games in Louisiana. If the Superdome's not ready, they'll play some games an hour away in Baton Rouge. Four of the Saints home games were there last season with dismal attendance. Gary Roberts, Deputy Dean of Tulane Law School and a former NFL attorney, says that the NFL will lose money when the Saints play in Louisiana, no matter where.

Mr. GARY ROBERTS (Deputy Dean, Tulane Law School): The NFL is willing to subsidize the Saints for one or two years at least, to give the city of New Orleans and south Louisiana an opportunity to rebuild itself and make itself a viable NFL city again. If, as I think most of us expect, the city will not be able to support a team three years from now, hey, they've got Los Angeles; it would be a perfect opportunity to move a team out there.

DOUGLAS: Saints owner, Tom Benson, has already talked about moving his team to San Antonio where they also played a few home games during this homeless season, to sell-out crowds. He's now hugely unpopular in the city. Spray painted on many refrigerators full of rotten food on the sidewalks are the words, Benson inside. New Orleans law professor Gary Roberts:

Mr. ROBERTS: The city and the state were already in a pretty precarious position and it's true that we are a small market. It was very likely the Saints were going to moving in the next decade anyway.

DOUGLAS: And people in New Orleans may be reluctant to come back to the Superdome. Thirty-thousand people were stranded there for days without food and water. When it was finally evacuated, the floor was flooded and the entire area was piled deep in trash and human waste. For many, the Superdome now represents, not pro-football, but hungry, desperate people, rumors of rapes and murders and the ineptitude of the response to Katrina. For years the state had been looking for a big corporate sponsor who would pay a few million bucks to name the Superdome after their company. That may be even more difficult now. A couple of spoiled, putrid refrigerators roll across the concrete field. Still, even for one worker emptying out the guts of the luxury boxes, hope springs eternal.

Mr. WILLIAM M. DAVIS(ph) (New Orleans Resident): They had this thing, some type of voodoo or something on the Saints, you know, that's why we never could win big. God came and washed it away, so now we gonna get everything back together and we going to the Super Bowl. You heard it from William M. Davis first, you know.

DOUGLAS: Louisiana's Governor, Kathleen Blanco, was thrilled at the NFL's announcement. She said as long as they play at home, New Orleans doesn't care if the Saints win or not, which is good, since they've had seven winning seasons and won one playoff game in the last 39 years. But, come this fall, a few wins may be just what the struggling franchise and its beat up city need. Dianna Douglas, NPR News.

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