Looking at Saints' influence in New Orleans

The New Orleans Times Picayune lists Saints owner Tom Benson as the most influential person in the city’s sports world.

No doubt Benson is a huge force and the Saints are more popular now than they’ve ever been. But I’m not thoroughly convinced Benson belongs at the very top of this list. He’s not a hands-on owner like Jerry Jones or Daniel Snyder.

There’s nothing wrong with that approach and Snyder and Jones haven’t had huge success of late. But I think one of Benson’s strengths is that he surrounds himself with good people. There are some of his employees who are a little further down the list and I think you could make a case that each of them might be the most influential person in New Orleans sports.

Start with quarterback Drew Brees. He’s more than just a great football player. He’s a community leader and a symbol of the city. Brees’ arrival in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina went a long way in turning around the fortunes of the Saints and the city.

Coach Sean Payton and general manager Mickey Loomis also are on the list, but I think a case can be made that they belong closer to the top. Like Brees, Payton and Loomis are major reasons why the Saints have become a model franchise.

Finally, there is Rita Benson LeBlanc. She’s the granddaughter of the owner and she’s more powerful than a lot of people realize. She’s the heir apparent to her grandfather, but she already plays a prominent role on the business side. She also has taken the lead role in the team’s community relations.