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Steely Leadership Guides the Saints

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    <span style="">A collective sigh of relief could almost be heard from all corners of the Saints' team hotel and the sparkling, brand new Lucas Oil Field in downtown Indianaplois, Indiana.  

The city of New Orleans, for the most part, seemed to come out of Hurricane Gustav in good shape.

Throughout the night on Sunday and especially on Monday, the Saints were focused on their normal routine, albeit in a hotel in City Center Indianapolis, a long way from home. The hospitality, from all corners, starting with the hotel and the Indianapolis Colts, has been beyond what could have been expected.

Professionals, clearly, are at work here. The Saints fit right in.

Sitting across of the boiling and pounding surf of the Gulf of Mexico, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers lay in wait.

In their state-of-the-art new practice facility, sitting close to the state-of-the-art stadium  with a Pirate Ship in one end zone a division winning squad in another that will host the upcoming Super Bowl, the Bucs dug their noses into their game plan preparations and focused on one thing: prepping for the Saints.

850 miles north of the Crescent City, amid national telecasts offering up-to-the-second offerings from New Orleans, the Saints did the same thing.

Ideal? Far from it. Televisions crews and reporters stalked out the team hotel. Waiting for comments from the Saints. There were few coming. Bands of Gustav were still wiping the Crescent City. The players had been practicing for the better part of four hours.

Honestly, what wisdom could really be offered following five hours away from TV, cell phones and any other communication? Give the media a canned quote and they grouse. Don't provide access because the situation is still fluid and suffer the ire of the laptop typewriter. Such is life. But life goes on and the reading public is smart than a written mea culpa to a scorned editor looking for the juicy story.

What could honestly be offered? Were there prayers and thoughts for the city? Of course there were all throughout the day and all throughout the previous night. In fact, I will step out on a limb here and venture to guess there were lots of them.

This, after all, is our hometown.

TV coverage is all consuming, it would seem. For better or worse, often sensationalized, (it seems to me), but when major cable organizations send hordes of personnel to our city, that is to be expected. Want a propane tank in the water?

Boom. There it is.

Want a reporter hanging from street sign outside Café Du Monde in hurricane winds? Roll the cameras.

It, meaning the esteemed Hurricane Gustav, chased us all off. Or, at least according to multiple reports, at least 95% of the population off.

The Saints to Indy, the families of the Saints' players and staff to all corners of the United States. The people of New Orleans?They went east, south, north and west. It will take weeks to get them back. But welcome them back we will, as soon as governmental officials give us the sign.

Some families, such as mine, retreated to cities not all that far away, such as Jackson, Mississippi. The training camp location for the Saints. They didn't want to go farther away, because they want to get home.

Were they out of harm's way? Certainly that is what I hoped. I prayed. But there were moments where I, like many, wondered if it was far enough away from the reaches of a massive storm.

Clearly, though, from some perspectives, the unavailability of the Saints players and head coach to the media wasn't enough or unacceptable.  It should be mentioned, right here, that those complaints were not registered from the media that covers the Saints on a daily basis.

Why you may ask? Because they understand and get it. They were in the same proverbial boat.

And the boat was in some surging waters and waves. But safe harbor, it would seem, still needs to be determined. Water facilities might not be at proper standards, food needs stocked on shelves, gas needs to be in the tanks to be pumped, money needs to be in put in ATM's. Power needs to be generated and available.

These people, Saints fans or not, just want to come home, too. They don't want to be in shelters, sleeping on a friend's couch, taking up residence in costly hotel room, or just surviving.

They want their home's back.

They know what New Orleans means to Tom Benson, Mickey Loomis, Sean Payton, Drew Brees, Deuce McAllister, Reggie Bush, Marques Colston, Scott Fujita, et all. Do you want to whole roster?

I can go on and on. After all, these are the men that two months ago had hammers, saws, paint brushes and a lot more in hand and helped rebuild three homes in the struggled Hollygrove. You don't work in 100 degree heat for a photo opp.

You do it because you care. And you do it 365 days a year, just as the Saints do.

But an outsider certainly couldn't understand that because they know. To them, New Orleans is a plate of BBQ shrimp and a 32-ounce beer walking down Bourbon Street.

They are missing so very much. I forgive them, I think.

Here is a hypothetical quote that apparently would have soothed some souls and kept the Saints from taking an unnecessary hit: "We really don't know what is happening to our homes and our neighbors. We just go by what we see on TV. It's not a good feeling to have a category two or three hurricane barreling down on our home," said player xxxx.

Feel better? I don't know if I do.

Men, such as Benson, Brees and Payton, that have raised in the millions of dollars in funds, and a lot more in community investment and awareness, are helping to get New Orleans back on its feet in the three years post-Hurricane Katrina.

Actions, not words. Benson, for one, recently purchased a major television station and, as recently as two weeks ago, lured a major entertainment company to the community with the help of state and local officials.

I know that I was riveted to WVUE Fox 8's coverage of Gustav through the night and day. I was able to watch it on the Saints' website. I helped set it up, and am darned glad I did. I didn't want to hear about something happening to my town. I still don't.

And I didn't want to hear from someone that was guessing and throwing something out there that just simply didn't know, because they weren't there. I wanted facts. As hard as they might be to accept.

Did I need to tell call my wife and tell here to dust off the insurance policies and make a dreaded call at first light? Just as thousands of other New Orleanians did three years ago, almost to the day?

I, think a lot of other, am just like everyone else. Regardless of if they were a Saints jersey on Sundays, or not.

Do I want to know their feelings?

They were simple.

They hoped and prayed for the best. What else, really, was there to say?

Quotes could have been decimated after Katrina hammered New Orleans three years ago. They would have been great. Perfect for copy.

And then the leeveees broke.

Everything changed.

So, despite come middling and seemingly misplaced criticisms, those around the country, understand and don't need shallow quotes. They, too, get it.

Do you really want to help and not just take a pot shot when convenient because you are working on a holiday?

Then come on down.

Experience the amazing food, culture and hospitality of our city. Spend a long weekend and have some fun along the way. It's there. It's not hard to find.

In fact, we welcome you with open arms.

Here's a quote, "New Orleans is great. We can't wait to get back home," said players 1-53 on the Saints' roster. "Take in a Saints game. If you need a ticket, you can't get one because we are sold out. But check the Saints' website for TicketMaster Ticket Exchange."

There may be some season ticket holder that beat a hasty retreat to parts unknown, and can help you with a coveted seat inside the Superdome.

In a mere day all the Saints will have the opportunity to share their feelings with the media now that the waters have seemingly subsided and the initial reports become more clear as to the true destruction of Hurricane Gustav on New Orleans. Helicopters are going up at first light. Patrols will bring back reports.

Home, perhaps even those of Saints players, coaches and administrators, will have been altered, most likely on some way, shape or form.

I know I call my home, knowing full well that nobody is home. We are safe. But I know just from the fast busy signal that power is out in my humble home. Life is not normal there.

"Daddy, why aren't you here? It's pouring rain and I am scared," is what I get from a six-year old that the term "Hurricane" has no relevance to, not should it. His name, Tyler, is unimportant. But he, like most, doesn't care at this moment to know Drew Brees' thoughts as he gets off a bus. He knows that Drew, and more importantly to him, that his Daddy is safe. He's just away right now. But we will see each other soon. Hopefully in just a matter of days.

I have a wife, a six-year old and a four-year old that like their home, their neighbors, their football team and a lot of other things about our lives. I like my home and regardless of the idiotic comment I overheard tonight in a restaurant ("Anybody that didn't leave after Katrina is a moron,"), I can't wait to see the skyline of New Orleans. Whether it be from the plane window on Friday or some other way.

This is my family's home and we can't wait to get back.

I listened to Mickey Loomis talk earlier (had to make a reporter's deadline I suppose) on Monday evening and he was eloquent, as usual, and addressed the feelings of the entire organization. He wants to return to his home, I thought. The look on his face said it all.

His look also said something else to me.

Relief.

He exuded it just like all of us hopefully did. And, he expressed it better than anyone else could. He and Benson guided the Saints through Katrina. A season, just three years ago, that was unlike anything an NFL team has ever experienced.

Going on near 20 years in the NFL, it is my humble opinion that Loomis is quite qualified to express an organization's collective feelings. And that he did.

If you didn't hear his words, it might not have mattered. His look, with a TV on mute, told the story, not just for Loomis and the Saints, but seemingly for an entire region.

In the meantime, Payton and his players kept a "business as usual" approach. The same approach they would have attacked a normal Monday with in New Orleans.

That, too, is quite comforting as I am rooting for the Saints. It takes a strong person to set a course, especially in hurricane force winds, and stay steady on the rudder.

That man is Payton. And regardless if you agree with his decision to collect as many facts as possible before addressing the media or not, he must be admired for his conviction in a period of time no other NFL head coach is faced to deal with. Simply put, he is doing what he feels is right for his team at this point in time.

The same qualities afforded to this week's opponent. In the NFL, the playing field is never quite level, as home field advantage is supposed to be the proverbial "12th man."

The Saints, it would seem, have earned that much. At least to those that are really in the know and not offering some half-corked opinion.

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