Think it seems harsh to list a team on the run from a natural disaster at the bottom of our rankings? Might be, so we're going to let Saints spokesman Greg Bensel have his say: "Eighty percent of companies in New Orleans haven't been able to reopen yet, but we are keeping this company in business. We relocated to San Antonio so we can stay afloat. We remain a Louisiana corporation, and we're paying $25 million into the state income tax fund this year. All anybody wants to do is criticize Mr. [Tom] Benson, but they're barking up the wrong tree."
He has a point. Even Mayor Ray Nagin has moved his family to Dallas, and for that matter, the Hornets are playing in Oklahoma City. Not one of these has gotten the bad press Benson has for refusing to commit to the Crescent City. Truth is, though, Saints fans probably were ready to rank Benson dead last among all franchise owners even before Hurricane Katrina. The guy got a sweetheart deal like no other in the country when, in 2001, Louisiana agreed to pay him $186 million over 10 years just to stay put. Yet he still whined about needing a new stadium.
Well before hurricane season, speculation abounded that Benson was going to buy out the state and move the team to Albuquerque or L.A. or San Antonio. Many fans believe Benson now will claim that he has no choice, that with the city's infrastructure still in shambles, he has to bolt. As a result, they're down on everyone, on Saints players (who are now on their fifth practice facility) and good-guy coach Jim Haslett almost as much as on management.
Most teams go through tough periods, and our rankings will reflect them. This tough period is biblical. More than three months after Katrina, the NFL still hasn't figured out where the Saints will play next season, or what kind of cap relief to provide so the club can attract free agents (imagine what a selling job that will be). Nor has Benson given back the $3 million in payments he already has taken from the state this year even though the Saints aren't playing in the Superdome.
For better or worse, fans see the Saints as a special symbol of their community. And ownership and the league have been about as effective in helping repair their shattered hopes as FEMA has.
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