The New Orleans Saints have announced today that its late Owner Tom Benson will be inducted into the club's Ring of Honor during halftime of Sunday's season opener. Benson, who purchased the club in 1985 and served as Owner for 33 years until he passed away on March 15, will be inducted when the team hosts the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for the season opener on Sunday at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. He will join K Morten Andersen, LB Rickey Jackson, QB Archie Manning and T William Roaf in the Ring of Honor, which was established in 2013.
"The New Orleans Saints and the city of New Orleans meant so much to my husband," said Saints Owner Gayle Benson. "He was so proud of them and wanted the team and the entire region to be admired worldwide. He was also grateful to our fans for their commitment to the Saints. That passion and support of our fans inspired him to give back to the community like he did. His impact will always be felt and this is a great way for our organization and our fans to honor his legacy."
Born in New Orleans on July 12, 1927 and raised in the city's St. Roch Neighborhood, Tom Benson graduated from St. Aloysius High School (Now Brother Martin) in 1944. Following his graduation, he enrolled at Loyola University New Orleans to study business and accounting. He interrupted his education to enlist in the U.S. Navy in 1945, where he was assigned to the USS South Dakota. Upon the conclusion of World War II, Mr. Benson returned home to New Orleans and continued his business administration studies.
Following his military service and studies, Benson started in the automobile industry in 1948 and worked his way into management in 1956. Over the next 30 years he built a multi-dealership organization with outlets throughout the New Orleans area and South Texas, also entering the banking business with his Benson Financial World network.
In 1985, Benson purchased the Saints to keep the franchise in the Crescent City, helping prevent the possibility of the team being sold to out-of-town interests and being relocated. Prior to his purchase of the Saints, the club had failed to post a winning season or qualify for the playoffs in their first 18 campaigns of existence. In 1986, his second season as Owner, Benson installed his own management/coaching team, and in 1987, the Saints broke through with a 12-3 record and hosted their first playoff contest. The club reached even greater heights in 2006, when Sean Payton was hired as head coach and quarterback Drew Brees was signed. Since those moves, the franchise has reached its highest point of success, posting a 119-85 overall record over the last 12 years, capped by the Super Bowl XLIV Championship. Overall, during Benson's ownership tenure, the Saints earned 11 playoff berths, six division titles and captured Super Bowl XLIV in 2009.
Benson also played a key role among NFL owners in various capacities for his 33 years of ownership of the Saints, including serving 25 years as Chairman of the Finance Committee, one of the League's most difficult, time-consuming and influential positions, with his most recent term ending in 2013.
Benson also made a significant impact off the field, using the influence of his franchise to serve as a model and leader for the Gulf South. The club's fan support reached new heights with a season ticket waiting list of over 73,000 people and a consecutive sellout streak that had extended to 122 games by the end of the 2017 season. The region also benefitted economically from Benson's ownership, as New Orleans hosted five Super Bowls during his tenure, with him leading each of the city's lobbying efforts. Dramatic modernizations of the club's playing facility, the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, also occurred under his watch, including a 2009 long-term agreement and lease with the state of Louisiana that resulted in extensive stadium renovations, the creation of the adjacent "Champions Square" into a world-class sports and entertainment destination and the purchase of an office building renamed "Benson Tower" which has contributed to the revitalization and vibrance of the city's Central Business District.
Through his leadership position, Benson emphasized community involvement and giving back to the Gulf Coast. Not only did he donate millions of dollars to numerous local educational, faith-based and social causes and organizations, but he engaged and challenged the entire Saints organization to be leaders in the community through service projects and initiatives.
In addition to his ownership of the Saints, Benson continued to invest and build several other enterprises with the ambition to stimulate growth locally. In 2012, he purchased the city's NBA franchise which was renamed and rebranded the Pelicans in 2013. Under his leadership, the franchise improved its standing on and off the court and the city hosted two NBA All-Star games since the purchase. He also owned Cadillac, Chevrolet and Mercedes-Benz automotive dealerships locally, Benson Tower and purchased Dixie Beer in 2017, investing in the brand's relaunch.
Benson's contributions in the military, sports, business and charitable arenas were recognized by numerous honors, including his induction into the Greater New Orleans Sports Hall of Fame (2018), Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame (2014), the Junior Achievement Business Hall of Fame (New Orleans Chapter-2013), the New Orleans Saints Hall of Fame (2012), the National World War II Museum's American Spirit Award (2011), the San Antonio Business Hall of Fame (2011), the U.S. Army's "Army Strong" Award (2009), the U.S. Navy Memorial's Lone Sailor Award (2007) and the Texas Business Hall of Fame (2007).