Saints think football since Gustav didn't turn out to be Katrina

INDIANAPOLIS -- For many New Orleans Saints veterans, Hurricane Katrina was a disaster. Comparatively, Gustav was a minor inconvenience.

Just 15 players remain from the 2005 team that played the entire season on the road as New Orleans reeled from Katrina and the damage it caused. That season, the Saints sometimes walked through practice plays in a parking lot and used a tent for their weight room.

The players who experienced that season understand that being safe in Indianapolis, staying at a five-star hotel and practicing at a brand-new stadium is a scenario to beat most alternatives. They say better planning by the organization and cooperation from the Indianapolis Colts have given them a chance to prepare in relatively normal conditions for their opener Sunday against Tampa Bay.

"It feels great," safety Josh Bullocks said after a Wednesday afternoon practice at Lucas Oil Stadium. "The whole plan makes us feel comfortable about where we're at and what's happening. During Katrina, we were out there in California for four or five days, then we knew we were going to San Antonio. We wasn't really concerned about the game because a lot of things was going on, but here, our main focus is on the game."

The Saints planned for evacuation well in advance of Gustav's landfall on Monday.

"The players and staff, everyone involved with this trip had a lot of time Friday and Saturday to make sure that their families were taken care of first," Saints coach Sean Payton said. "Really, the plan was twofold. The first part was family members and getting them squared away, and then part two to the plan was our relocation to Indianapolis. Really, all of it has gone really smooth."

Now that their families are safe after Gustav, and damage to their homes was minimal, Saints players can get excited about playing the opener at their home stadium. Saints owner Tom Benson said Tuesday that Louisiana Superdome officials assured him the facility would be ready in time for the game. The team plans to return to New Orleans on Friday.

"That's the biggest difference, and that's the best part about it," running back Deuce McAllister said.

The Saints paid attention to what was happening on Monday, but didn't dwell on it.

"I don't think you necessarily insulated yourself, but you've still got a job that you've got to prepare for," McAllister said. "We still have to think about our work at the same time."

Even as Gustav hit the Gulf Coast, defensive end Will Smith said players didn't waste time thinking about their belongings.

"Nobody was really worried about it," Smith said. "Everybody's insured, everybody's family was in a safe place. Nobody was really worried about the storm. If it hit, it hit. There's nothing we could do to stop it or control it, so we just had to go with the flow."

They know that worrying won't speed up the recovery effort, either.

"As far as services, hospitals up running, power -- we can't control that," McAllister said. "All we can control is playing a game."

Smith noted it was the third time he had been displaced because of a storm. Hurricane Ivan forced the Saints to practice in San Antonio briefly in 2004.

The veterans say football has kept their lives relatively normal.

"If the hurricane didn't come, we'd still be doing the same thing," offensive tackle Jammal Brown said. "I think football, even though it's our job, keeps our minds off the negative of the hurricane."

The circumstances aren't ideal, but McAllister said it could be much worse.

"We're making the best of it," McAllister said. "We'd rather be at home, but this is what we've got, so this is what we'll deal with."