Saints March to League Beat
From NY Daily News...
Saints march to league beat
The Saints always have been a relatively anonymous team other than the negative attention their off-and-on 'Aints nickname brings them. Now they've become the sentimental favorite in the NFL.
"The last two weeks have felt like six months," Saints coach Jim Haslett was saying by phone yesterday from San Antonio. "These guys have really hung in there. I feel good about our team, dealing with all the circumstances."
It seems everybody is adopting the Saints, whose "home opener" is Monday night at the Meadowlands against the Giants, a move by the NFL that upset Haslett.
"They could have picked a neutral site," he said. "I don't understand what the thought was going to Giants Stadium. I'm kind of surprised by that one."
Has the NFL given him a good explanation?
"No," Haslett said.
The Saints represent a region ravaged by Hurricane Katrina and, like so many, have been driven from their homes. Their opening-day, 23-20 victory in Carolina, which came on John Carney's 47-yard field goal with three seconds remaining, will be the No. 1 feel-good story of the 2005 season, unless the Saints get to the Super Bowl.
They have become the real America's Team, which happened with the Giants and Jets following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
For three hours Sunday, the Saints brought joy to some of the people who have been living in shelters, who lost their homes, who lost everything. "That's a strong motivation to play for when you have people who've gone through such tragedy and still say, hey, we're rooting for you and want you to go out there and do well," said Eli Manning, a New Orleans native.
The Saints were his team growing up. His father Archie is the greatest Saint of all time, not that there is a lot of competition. Manning had been looking forward to playing in the Superdome for the first time ever and now wonders if he will ever play there. His brother Peyton played at the Superdome four times in high school and twice in the NFL.
"Our high school used to play there every year," Manning said. "When I got around, we canceled that. We never played there. I grew up going to all the games with my dad. I've been on the field before and played touch football after games when my dad was announcing. It would have been fun to play in your home town. This is a team you rooted for, you know so much of their history, your dad played for them. I grew up a Saints fan."
The NFL announced yesterday that four of the Saints' last seven home games will be played in Baton Rouge and three others in San Antonio, where the Saints have moved their operation for the rest of the season. Along the way and throughout this tragedy, they have picked up plenty of fans.
"I was rooting for them myself," Michael Strahan said.
Monday night will be just as much a telethon for hurricane relief as it is a football game. The advantage of putting it on a big stage in New York definitely entered into the NFL's thinking. Baton Rouge is not ready to host a game. And for such an important night, getting San Antonio prepared to put on a game on short notice was deemed inappropriate. The NFL also liked the idea of playing this game in front of 75,000 fans instead of a potentially half-empty stadium at a neutral site.
The competitive advantage the Giants gained was a secondary concern.
The Saints will be wearing their home black jerseys and their logo probably will be in one of the end zones. Saints season-ticket holders and fans who held tickets to the Giants' game at the Superdome were given first chance to buy tickets. The Giants said about 3,500-4,000 of those fans elected to buy tickets. Some of them, however, were likely Giants fans who bought tickets just for that game and had planned to travel to New Orleans.
After the Saints are greeted by a standing ovation, which, in effect, will be a way for Giants fans to show their appreciation for all the people in the Gulf Coast who have suffered, it will have the feel of another Giants home game.
Haslett said his players have been able to get back to the New Orleans area to check on their homes. Haslett said his house "lost part of the roof, the windows were blown out, the garage door, a fence, things that can be replaced," he said. "From a family standpoint with our team, everybody is out and healthy. We've had a lot of personal property loss."
Football, he said, "is a way to get away from everything. It gives them relief. When we get done with football and go home, reality sets in. The players have been resilient and done a great job to focus on what we had to do to win games."
This is the Saints' 39th season. They've been to the playoffs five times and have won just one playoff game. For a team with little history of success, they have a lot of new fans.
Originally published on September 13, 2005
RE: Saints March to League Beat
I also heard a great line last night on NFL Network I believe... The Saints found a home, its across the nation.
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