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Tagliabue a true friend to N.O. in tough times

this is a discussion within the Saints Community Forum; Paul Tagliabue's unprecedented run of success as NFL commissioner lasted nearly 17 years. But in New Orleans, he likely will be remembered most for his efforts the past seven months. Displaying decisive leadership and a sincere concern for the Gulf ...

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Old 03-22-2006, 02:55 PM   #1
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Tagliabue a true friend to N.O. in tough times

Paul Tagliabue's unprecedented run of success as NFL commissioner lasted nearly 17 years. But in New Orleans, he likely will be remembered most for his efforts the past seven months.

Displaying decisive leadership and a sincere concern for the Gulf South region, Tagliabue has been instrumental in helping the Saints return to New Orleans as leaders in the community's rebuilding efforts.

Tagliabue, who announced he will be stepping down in July, said Monday that his support will continue even as he moves into the role of the league's senior executive consultant over the final two years of his contract.

"I spoke to (Saints owner Tom Benson) this morning and assured him that of all the priorities I had both personally and professionally, that the success of the Saints in that context was at the top of the list, and I would continue to work very closely with him and the people down there," said Tagliabue, who has made five visits to New Orleans and Baton Rouge since Hurricane Katrina devastated the region, with another trip planned for April 6.

"I intend to continue to be very involved with the Saints and with the Saints' role in the recovery and rebuilding of the Gulf Coast region, and with the business council in New Orleans."

In fact, NFL executives were meeting with New Orleans business leaders and Superdome executives Monday morning when Tagliabue announced his retirement. Senior vice president Frank Supovitz and entertainment marketing director Tracy Perlman were in town to discuss possible events in New Orleans during the NFL's kickoff celebration in September.

Tagliabue and the NFL have worked closely with the Saints, focusing on much more than just setting the schedule. They are planning to bring the fall owners' meeting to New Orleans and are discussing several entertainment events, such as televised concerts, to promote the city.

"He definitely would like the NFL light shone on New Orleans," said Frank Vuono, a national marketing consultant whom Tagliabue hired to help the Saints. "I think he's a visionary, and he understands the role sports plays in society."

Stephen Perry, the president of the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau, said he also plans to take up Tagliabue on his offer to host luncheons in New York to help attract top corporate executives to business endeavors in New Orleans.

"I've just got to tell you, the league has just been tremendous with us as a partner, trying to figure out how to put the league's brand behind us," said Perry, who is co-chairman of the 27-member Saints Business Council that was formed last month. "I think without any question, Paul Tagliabue personally had a major impact on the future of the National Football League in this city.

"From down here, I don't think we could ever be able to tell him thank you enough."

Gov. Kathleen Blanco echoed those sentiments, issuing a statement of gratitude to the commissioner for his support and involvement.

"Commissioner Paul Tagliabue is a dear friend to Louisiana, and we wish him well in his new position," Blanco said. "Shortly after Hurricane Katrina, Commissioner Tagliabue expressed his sincere concern for our citizens and treated Louisiana with compassion and respect. His support never wavered in those early days after the storm. We owe him our gratitude.

"He has worked diligently to help resolve issues confronting the future of New Orleans and its relationship with the National Football League. Because of his leadership and those at the NFL, they are full partners in our recovery. He has been prudent in his efforts to protect the best interests of the Saints, the NFL, and the many thousands of loyal Saints fans."

Benson also issued a statement Monday. His relationship with Tagliabue dates to 1985 when he bought the Saints and when Tagliabue was an attorney working with the league.

This past year easily was the most eventful and important in their relationship, from the Saints' situation to the tense negotiations of the NFL's latest collective bargaining agreement.

"Paul and I have worked for many years on many critical issues that have faced our league, and he has been a tremendous asset to our league and the direction we have taken," Benson, who serves as chairman of the league's finance committee. "We have experienced very positive growth in the area of revenue sharing and broadcast contracts. We have secured long-term labor peace and have also even encountered some of the worst times following 9/11. But through it all, Paul has been a leader, a friend and a voice that many others within our league and other leagues have followed."

Benson and Tagliabue were often painted as adversaries during the 2005 season, with Tagliabue seemingly pressuring the Saints owner into remaining in Louisiana instead of relocating to San Antonio, where the team was based after being forced to evacuate New Orleans.

But they have presented a unified and positive front these past few months, creating an atmosphere of optimism and excitement as the Saints prepare for a return to the Superdome in September.

"He stepped up in these last six months and said, 'Hey, the Saints are coming back to New Orleans,' and he had the wherewithal to make it happen," said longtime league executive Eddie Jones, whom Tagliabue hired after Katrina to serve as the league's liaison in the city.

Tim Coulon, the Superdome Commission chairman, and Doug Thornton, the regional vice president of SMG, which runs the Dome for the state, gave similar credit to Tagliabue, saying that the situation could have been handled a number of ways, but that Tagliabue seemed to sincerely have the region's best interests in mind.

"Certainly as the commissioner, he's the keeper of the NFL brand and he has to protect it and guard it and has 32 owners to be concerned with," Thornton said. "But more importantly I think he was genuinely impacted by the events that occurred here. I think he genuinely wants to see us recover, and it could become part of his legacy."

Those who were involved in meetings and negotiations during the early months after Katrina said they were struck by two aspects of Tagliabue's personality -- his compassion and his decisiveness.

Thornton said he saw both of those traits firsthand during an early September meeting in Baton Rouge. Upon entering the room, Thornton said the first thing Tagliabue said to him was that he had read about what was taking place at the Superdome during those early days, and that he and his wife, Chan, were concerned about Thornton and thinking about him.

Not long after, Thornton said he was equally impressed by how quickly Tagliabue was able to assess all the information and make a swift decision on where the Saints would play their games. Tagliabue did the same thing regarding the 2006 schedule, urging Superdome officials to have the facility ready by September.

"In true Paul Tagliabue fashion. He has that ability to gain the facts, assess the facts, break it down and gain a consensus from all parties," said Thornton, who was exposed to the commissioner's thoroughness when preparing for the first Super Bowl following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Tagliabue came to New Orleans and toured the Dome's ventilation system, among other security concerns.

"I can't say enough about the guy, on a personal and professional level. I have the greatest amount of respect for him. I really do," Thornton said. "I can't think of a person in this business -- or any business -- I've ever met quite like Paul Tagliabue. He is just a great human being. That's the best way I can put it."

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