Relocation is a (usually unfortunate) part of the sports world. The NFL is no stranger to that with three teams — the Rams, Chargers, and Raiders — all picking new homes in the last few years. SB Nation NFL is looking at the fallout and ramifications of team displacements throughout NFL history, and what moves could be coming next in a relocation-themed week.
Gumbo, beignets, the New Orleans Saints. Three things that have forever defined Crescent City. But following the 2004 season, there was speculation about whether the Saints would remain in the city where they’ve resided since 1967.
A yearlong battle between late owner Tom Benson, Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco, and fans was interrupted by Hurricane Katrina and a temporary relocation. Eventually, the Saints returned to the city and their “rebirth” of sorts began, but that wasn’t always a certainty.
How close was Benson to moving the Saints to San Antonio, or elsewhere?
Benson was threatening to move the Saints months before Hurricane Katrina
In April 2005, Saints owner Tom Benson put negotiations with the state and the Louisiana Superdome on hold after he and Governor Blanco’s team could not agree on the terms of a new lease. But that wasn’t the first time he had argued with city and state officials about the stadium. After calling the Superdome “dingy and depressing,” Benson then negotiated a deal with the state for stadium and concession upgrades instead of a new venue in 2001.
By breaking off the next negotiations, Benson would be eligible to move the team following the 2005 season. The following month, the Associated Press reported that Benson was considering three cities for possible relocation: San Antonio, Texas; Albuquerque, New Mexico; or Los Angeles.
Benson owned property in San Antonio and the San Antonio Express-News reported that the city was his preferred destination for the team, but he was receiving offers from billionaires in Los Angeles and Albuquerque to sell or move the Saints.
Who Dat Nation was wildly against a relocation. The Saints went the first 20 years of their existence without a winning season and didn’t earn a playoff victory until 2000. For fans who spent a lot of time attending games with paper bags over their heads, they had already been through a lot of heartbreak.
The Saints technically did relocate during that 2005 season when, about four months later, Hurricane Katrina brought a disaster that nobody expected.
Hurricane Katrina forced the Saints to temporarily relocate
The Saints had only played two preseason games in the Superdome before Katrina tore through the Gulf Coast.
The front office, team headquarters, and practice facility were relocated to San Antonio. The Saints’ first home game against the New York Giants was played at Giants Stadium and the rest of the home games were split between the Alamodome in San Antonio and Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
The nomadic life took its toll on the players. The Saints performed considerably worse away from the Superdome. After an emotional, last-second victory over the Carolina Panthers in Week 1, the Saints only won two more games the rest of the year.
They had gone from 9-7, 8-8, and 8-8 the previous three seasons to 3-13 in 2005, including an 0-3 record in Tiger Stadium and a 1-2 finish in the Alamodome. Head coach Jim Haslett was fired at the end of the season.
The Saints weren’t winning, but there were bigger issues at hand when it came to Benson’s wishes for permanent relocation.
Permanent relocation rumors continued in the wake of Hurricane Katrina
In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Benson was criticized by fans, as well as city and state officials, for meeting with San Antonio mayor Phil Hardberger during the Saints’ “home” games in the city.
There were many conflicting reports about Benson keeping the team in San Antonio for the 2006 season and the foreseeable future, due to New Orleans’ crumbling economy and small potential for a rebuild.
In October — less than two months after Katrina made landfall — ESPN’s Chris Mortensen said the Saints had “probably” played for the final time in New Orleans.
In the following months, multiple groups of investors popped up, ready to buy the team and keep it in New Orleans. Benson refused, intending at the time to pass ownership down to his granddaughter Rita Benson LeBlanc, who was soon after named owner/executive vice president of the Saints.
Benson, Blanco, and NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue met several times as they worked to keep the Saints in New Orleans. Tagliabue helped with the cost of the Superdome’s pricy renovations, leading the charge to get the league to donate $15 million.
On Jan. 11, 2006, Tagliabue announced that the Saints would play the entire 2006 season in New Orleans. At that press conference, Benson said he was committed to New Orleans, as long as New Orleans was committed to him.
The rebirth was complete without having to move the team
That offseason, the Saints hired Sean Payton and signed quarterback Drew Brees in free agency.
The Saints returned home to a newly renovated Superdome in Week 3 of the 2006 season on Monday Night Football. Safety Steve Gleason blocked a punt en route to a 23-3 win over the Atlanta Falcons — a play which is now forever enshrined with a statue outside the stadium.
Things continued to work out from there.
The Saints finished that season with an NFC Championship Game appearance, which was the best finish in franchise history up to that point. Three years later, the Saints claimed their first and only Super Bowl — a 31-17 win over the Indianapolis Colts — and continue today to be a symbol of hope for a city that was on the edge of destruction not too long ago.