Saints might not be able to return to New Orleans soon

Even as the NFL continued to assess and evaluate the widespread damage caused by Hurricane Katrina, and the possible ramifications to playing in the damaged Louisiana Superdome, New Orleans Saints officials began exploring potential alternate sites for practices and perhaps even games.

Saints director of operations James Nagaoka was in contact with officials from other cities, most notably San Antonio, about moving practices as early as next week. The team is currently practicing in San Jose, Calif., in advance of Thursday night's preseason game against the Oakland Raiders, and the preference is to return to a city in the South or the Southwest to begin preparations for the Sept. 11 regular-season opener.

Mike Abington, director of the Alamodome in San Antonio, confirmed the Saints have spoken to city officials. Nagaoka inquired about the availability of the San Antonio School District Spring Sports Complex, a site that could be under consideration for team practices. The Saints practiced at the site last September, when they were forced to leave New Orleans in advance of Hurricane Ivan. It is believed that Nagaoka also contacted officials from other cities in the southwest.

One league owner said he believed the Saints had begun "at least preliminary" talks about an alternative playing site, with the Alamodome topping the list. The owner said that he had heard Houston was a possible alternative practice site.

Reliant Park could be used for the
Saints' home opener if the Louisiana Superdome
isn't available, stadium president and general manager Shea Guinn
said Tuesday.

Guinn offered the stadium as an option to the NFL, but hasn't
heard back from the league.

"It would be a heck of a lot of work and a challenge but the
circumstances are extraordinary. We would do everything we can to
help," Guinn told Houston television station KRIV.

The extent of damage to the Saints' complex in Metairie, La., was not yet known. Saints officials could not be immediately reached on Tuesday night as their cell phones, all with New Orleans area codes, did not answer or did not have a signal.

"We don't know anything yet about where we're going from here," said wide receiver Michael Lewis. "But from what we've seen [on television], and what we're hearing, it's going to be hard to go back to New Orleans and practice."

It might be equally difficult, even though the Saints don't play a home contest until Sept. 18 and have only one game during the first month of the season, to play at the Superdome anytime soon. League officials suggested Tuesday there might still be time to repair the tears in the roof of the Superdome. But even if that were the case, the general conditions in New Orleans, where 80 percent of the city is under water and electricity might not be restored for a month or more, could make a home schedule untenable, at least over the early part of the season.

League vice president of public relations Greg Aiello told ESPN.com in an e-mail that the NFL was still gathering information from New Orleans and Superdome officials.

San Antonio city councilman Roger Flores told the San Antonio Express-News newspaper that he had apprised Saints officials on Tuesday that the city would attempt to accommodate the club if a move is necessary. Saints owner Tom Benson, once one of San Antonio's biggest car dealers, still has strong ties to the city's business communities.

"Mr. Benson has been an integral part of our business community," Flores said. "We also have a fan base that should provide them with some measure of success financially."

Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com. To check out Len's chat archive, click hereInsider.