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HOW DREW BREES SAVED THE SAINTS FRANCHISE (888) 481-1333 | www.joneshilllaw.com NOVEMBER 2018
AND THE HOPE OF NEW ORLEANS
If you were in Louisiana at the time of Hurricane Katrina, you saw the irreparable damage that wrecked our homes. The natural disaster was catastrophic enough, and the state struggled to recover after the storm left the Gulf Coast. The streets of New Orleans still smelled of rotten sewage through the spring of 2007, and the lack of tourism revenue only drew more doubt that a resolution to the suffering was near. While Mardi Gras generates significant money for the city of New Orleans, the number of hotels, restaurants, and bars that fill up for a Saint’s game is just as pivotal. But when Katrina destroyed Louisiana’s landscape just before the start of the NFL season, the last thought on anyone’s mind was what the Saints were going to do. The Superdome was the only safe haven for thousands of people torn from their homes, and the damage done to that sanctuary was so comprehensive that the Saints couldn’t play there anyway. Forced to go on the road or play their games at Tiger Stadium, head coach Jim Haslett did the best he could to keep the team focused as they operated without a place to call home. Since he had stepped in after Mike Ditka was fired and led the Saints to the franchise’s first- ever playoff win in 2000, Haslett had gained the respect of his fair city. But the team being displaced from their home turf proved to be too much. After finishing with a 3–13 record in the 2005 season, Haslett was fired, and Sean Payton was brought in on January 2006. With the NFL looking at European games, and many owners eyeing the prospect of bringing football back to Los Angeles, the prime candidate for these vacancies was our beloved Saints. From an outsider’s perspective, the team lacked a deep-rooted history, and Louisiana was a state that tended to catered to college sports. So moving the team wouldn’t have a substantial impact. Add in the fact that the Saints were now without a home field, and speculation swirled about whether or not relocation was in the cards. During the speculation about the Saint’s future, there were also questions about who was going to play center. For five years, Aaron Brooks served as starting quarterback and set plenty of records during
his tenure. But after being benched at the end of the 2005 season, while Sean Peyton was looking for “his guy,” Brooks eventually found himself an odd man out. The marquee free-agent quarterback at the time wasn’t Drew Brees, but many people thought Daunte Culpepper was the future for their organization. Rumors circled through the league that Brees wanted to play for the Dolphins, and coach Nick Saban spent time going back and forth between the two quarterbacks. With uncertainty about Brees’ recovery after a shoulder surgery, the Dolphins ended up trading for Culpepper, and shortly after, Brees signed a deal with the Saints. “WHEN KATRINA DESTROYED LOUISIANA’S LANDSCAPE JUST BEFORE THE START OF THE NFL SEASON, THE LAST THOUGHT ON ANYONE’S MIND WAS WHAT THE SAINTS WERE GOING TO DO.” Outsiders may have thought the Saints a prime contender for relocation — which was still a discussion at the start of the 2006 season — but the city of New Orleans knew better. After a massive renovation to repair the damage from Katrina, the Saints returned to the Superdome on Sept. 25, 2006, to a sold-out crowd of over 70,000 people. With Brees leading a rejuvenated offense, the Saints went to their first NFC Championship that year, losing to the Bears. With the backing of 65,000 season ticket holders, the next season showcased the Superdome as one of the toughest places to play in the league, and the rumors of relocation seized. Three years later, the Saints won the Super Bowl with Brees etching his legacy in stone as the MVP of the game. Had Nick Saban gone with Brees, what would’ve happened to the Saints? Would they have made the playoffs that year? Would they have drafted Matt Leinart? Would they have struggled in the 2006 season? Would they even exist to this day? It will always be one of the greatest what-if scenarios in sports, but we’re happy Brees continues to light up the Saints’ record books today.
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