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ssmitty 05-04-2006 03:49 AM

moves that changed the face of the saints
Mickles: Moves that changed face of the Saints

Moves that changed face

Advocate sports writer
Published: May 4, 2006

It’s been five days since the NFL draft, and long-suffering fans of the New Orleans Saints — thanks to an assist from the Houston Texans — still can’t wipe the smile off their faces.

Then again, why would they want to stop smiling after what happened last weekend.

Even though their minds may still be on loved ones or their hurricane-damaged property — the two things that matter most since August — the Saints gave fans a welcomed diversion.

More importantly, they’ve given them a thing or two to smile about for a while.

Actually, make that three big things: a young, energetic head coach in Sean Payton, a new quarterback in Drew Brees and running back Reggie Bush — the Heisman Trophy winner and the most exciting player to come out of college in the last six years.

In just four months, with three moves, the Saints changed the face of their team — which desperately needed a facelift after that 3-13 season last fall.

While the hiring of Payton and the acquisition of Brees were important and much-needed steps in their transition back to New Orleans, what the Saints did was the tonic their fan base needed.

From the moment the Texans passed on Bush — much to the chagrin of their own fans — and signed Mario Williams, Saints fans have been squealing with delight.

But they had to sweat out 12 more hours before the Saints took Bush. After all, there was a chance the Saints could pass, too.

When it became official, the phones started ringing off the hooks in the ticket office — a sweet sound to a franchise trying to bounce back and survive in the post-Katrina world.

“It was a little overwhelming how excited people were to have Reggie on our team,� Saints General Manager Mickey Loomis said. “Until you go through that you don’t really realize the impact of how we are perceived.

“We had a lot of calls from teams around the league that are excited for the Saints,� he added. “They’re people I know personally and people who know what we went through last year, and how difficult that was.�

Just like that, by simply handing an index card with Bush’s name on it to Commissioner Paul Tagliabue, the Saints energized a city and a region.

At the same time, they earned an “A� for the draft regardless of what they did with their next seven selections.

It was the beginning of a weekend that would bring the Saints more than just eight rookies.

A couple of shrewd moves allowed them to drop down nine spots in the second and fourth rounds and pick up a pair of veteran players who could wind up cracking the starting lineup.

While they were overshadowed by Bush’s coming-out party, center Jeff Faine, who was acquired in a deal with the Cleveland Browns, and defensive tackle Hollis Thomas, who came from the Philadelphia Eagles, could wind up being important footnotes to the draft.

Faine, a three-year NFL starter, will likely fill the void left by Pro Bowl center LeCharles Bentley, who took Faine’s job with the Browns.

Thomas will add depth to the interior of a defensive line that lists Brian Young and Willie Whitehead as starters. Thomas spent most of his first 10 seasons in the league as a starter.

Even Payton was giddy about what the weekend brought — particularly with his first pick and what it meant to the fans.

“I know as an organization, ownership, everyone involved in the personnel and coaching staff,� he said, “these are exciting times for this city and everyone in this region.�

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