Tom Benson 'caught right in heart'

Tom Benson was overcome with emotion after a sculpture of the New Orleans Saints owner was unveiled Tuesday outside the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

"Boy, that's real nice," Benson said as he choked back tears. "I never did think this would happen. I'm so pleased. Thank you all very much."

Benson later told reporters, "To have something like this done for you is just unbelievable. You just go through life and you don't think anything like this would ever happen. So it actually caught me right in my heart."

Benson, 87, also joked of the nearly 10-foot-tall bronze statue, "I had no idea I was that good looking."

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, New Orleans mayor Mitch Landrieu, Saints coach Sean Payton, general manager Mickey Loomis and quarterback Drew Brees were among those in attendance for the unveiling of the sculpture, which depicts Benson holding up the Vince Lombardi Trophy following Super Bowl XLIV.

Benson bought the Saints in 1985 and the New Orleans Pelicans/Hornets in 2012. In both cases, he was widely credited for rescuing the franchises, keeping them in New Orleans when their futures were in doubt.

Payton said to Benson during a brief speech that "the opportunity to hold that Lombardi Trophy doesn't exist without your leadership."

Both Jindal and Landrieu credited Benson for his longstanding investment in New Orleans on many levels. They both stressed that the commitment Benson and wife Gayle have made to New Orleans since the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 has provided invaluable inspiration.

"No other professional sports team is more bound to the vitality and the strength of its community than the Saints," Landrieu said.

Although Benson's reputation with the fan base was fractured in 2005, when he reportedly entertained the idea of moving the team to San Antonio following Katrina, his commitment to the community and his relationship with the fans are both stronger today than they've ever been.

Since the Saints returned home in 2006, Benson hired Payton and signed Brees, paving the way for that Super Bowl title. He also signed a long-term lease agreement with the state, securing the team's future in New Orleans and helping to land another Super Bowl in New Orleans as host city in 2013.

Benson also purchased the Pelicans and a local TV station. And he and Gayle have been overwhelmingly generous in their charitable contributions throughout New Orleans, the Gulf South, San Antonio and the Catholic Church communities.

"Boy, it's just wonderful," Benson said. "I'm so glad our city and our state and our team's doing so well. And we're gonna continue doing well, too. We've gotta win another Super Bowl this year."