Saints to return to Superdome, host Falcons Sept. 24

The Saints will return to action in New Orleans much earlier than originally hoped or expected.

The Saints will host their first game at the Louisiana Superdome, severely damaged in Hurricane Katrina, on Sept. 24 when they host the Atlanta Falcons, the NFL announced Sunday.

"Superdome officials are pointing to the Falcons-Saints game on Sept. 24 as the first event in the building since Hurricane Katrina," commissioner Paul Tagliabue said. "We are pleased that this historic reopening will feature the annual renewal of the traditional Falcons-Saints rivalry."

A 40-foot by 150-foot mural with the news of the Saints' 2006 home opener was completed on the outside of the Superdome just hours before kickoff of Super Bowl XL in Detroit.

The mural contains the date of the Saints' first regular-season home game in the Superdome since 2004, Saints and Falcons helmet logos, and a "Go Saints" slogan. It took four workers nearly five days to complete the project, amid high winds and winter weather in Detroit this week.

The Superdome was used as a shelter for between 25,000 and 30,000 people following Katrina. Repair costs are estimated at about $140 million and most of that is expected to be covered by the state's insurance and by FEMA.

The Superdome's structural frame was not affected by the hurricane. The building lost 70 percent of its roof, however, which resulted in major damage as rain poured into the building.

All of the carpet -- about 53,000 square yards -- must be replaced, as well as 30 percent of the drywall and 15 percent of the ceiling tiles.

Much of the upholstered furniture was damaged by water and mold, including all of the furnishings in the box suites. About 35 percent of the seats in the arena had water damage.

The football turf also was damaged by contaminated water and will be replaced.

Eleven of the Superdome's 38 escalators and six of the 15 elevators will be replaced. The four main scoreboards must be replaced. And the building's telephone system flooded and must be replaced.

The original timetable for repairing the Superdome set Nov. 1 as the date the facility would be ready for hosting major football events.

The Saints' first two regular-season games will be played on the road, with the locations and dates of those games, as well as the rest of the Saints' and Falcons' 2006 schedules, to be announced by early April.

The Saints also plan to play two of their four 2006 preseason games in the Gulf Coast region.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.