METAIRIE, La. – Long before 2020 was forcing the sports world to deal with so many unprecedented wrinkles, there was the plight of the New Orleans Saints in 2005.
“We were literally the bears of the NFL bad news,” broad receiver Lance Moore said of a vagabond team who evacuated New Orleans because of Hurricane Katrina and then spent the year jumping around various practice locations in San Antonio while he played “at home”. Play in three different cities.
“‘Unique’ probably doesn’t do it justice,” said Deuce McAllister, a Mississippi native, emphasizing how much the “uncertainty and the unknown” of the Saints’ long-term future weighed on him and others when it was unclear whether the team would ever be in could return to the Gulf South or move permanently.
It was December 30, 2005 when the Saints announced they would be returning to New Orleans for the 2006 season – where they would produce one of the sport’s best comebacks of all time, hiring coach Sean Payton and quarterback Drew Brees and That season he reached the NFC championship game.
But that 2005 season has largely been lost to history.
There was a tug-of-war behind the scenes, and San Antonio officials tried to lure the Saint’s owner, Tom Benson, to Texas and the league on a permanent basis to make sure it didn’t happen. This led to an agreement that the Saints would play three home games at the Alamodome in San Antonio and four at the Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge. They actually played their home game in Week 2 against the Giants in New York.
The Saints won their season opener in Carolina when they still had adrenaline. Ultimately, however, she was weighed down by her nomadic existence when they ended up at 3-13 and parted ways with coach Jim Haslett, quarterback Aaron Brooks and nearly half of the squad.
“I’m trying not to think about it too much,” said Haslett, now the Tennessee Titans linebacker coach. “Out of all the years I’ve played and trained, I thought it was probably the worst thing I’ve ever been through, the 42 years I’ve been doing this. It was bad for the players; it is difficult to win in situations like this. And not. ” to be with the family. It was hard for everyone. “
Haslett and several players said they were trying not to complain too publicly. “It wasn’t lost to either of us that it was much more real and harder for everyone in New Orleans and the surrounding area,” said broad receiver Donte ‘Stallworth.
However, their frustration grew as the season progressed, especially later in the year when the Saints could no longer practice in the Alamodome due to previously scheduled events.
Instead, they held tours and meetings at an old waterworks and practiced in a high school sports complex with locker rooms in baseball shelters. Weight rooms were set up under tents in parking lots. Their “hot and cold tubs” were made from large trash cans.
“They’d just sit there and go, ‘Wow, are we really in the NFL? We’re just kind of kicked to the side of the road here,'” said defense attorney Mike Karney, who said the memories hit him “like a hammer” as he saw that the San Francisco 49ers had to move to Arizona for the final month of this season because of the COVID-19 protocols.
“There are obviously a lot of parallels with what’s going on with some of these teams. They feel for them. But it’s everywhere, rather than just one team having to deal with it,” Karney said. “But I have to give it to the staff and the players we’ve had. We basically get our asses handed over every week with every conceivable obstacle. And I think we did our best.”
Fifteen years later, ESPN consulted several members of this team for their considerations:
“That gave me hope”
The Saints evacuated New Orleans on August 28, 2005, the day before the storm, and departed three days early for their scheduled trip to Oakland. Players and staff said they felt helpless as they watched the destruction from their hotel rooms.
The team had been evacuated in the past due to storms. This was very different, however, as New Orleans’ levee system had failed and much of the city remained under water. More than 1,800 people were reported to have died across the region. The Superdome was found among countless destroyed buildings and homes, forcing hundreds of thousands of people to evacuate to places like Houston and San Antonio.
San Antonio was also a natural destination for the Saints, as Benson had extensive family and business relationships there.
Stallworth: “We had a [players-only] To meet. … A lot of people wanted to go back to Louisiana and just said, ‘F — the season. We have to help. Whatever resources we have, we have to be there. ‘And others said, “The NFL is going to do what they are going to do and they are not just going to not let us play.” … This meeting was pretty intense. But I remember we agreed in the end that we would play because the city of New Orleans needed us. And the best we can do is play these games and play our asses off and give the city something to be proud of and something that distracts them from the harsh realities they’ve been through. “
McAllister, who gained entry to New Orleans as part of a Sports Illustrated story: “You literally saved people back then. And I’ll never forget that one guy. It wasn’t ‘Man, I’m so grateful to be alive.’ Do you know the first thing this guy said? “Did we beat the Raiders?” A preseason game! And I said, ‘Don’t worry about the Raiders.’ “
Stallworth: “[Evacuees at a San Antonio shelter] asked me how I was doing. “How is Joe? [Horn]? How is Deuce? How is aaron? ‘And I ask, “What ?!” I’ve always understood that exercise is important. Even as a child, it helped me escape some of the realities of my own upbringing and just immerse myself in football. But that hit me really hard. “
Offensive against Wayne Gandy: “I remember there was no way Carolina would beat us [in Week 1]. They didn’t get a shot because we saw people sleeping in the hangars distributing food and the like. “
Wide receiver Joe Horn: “That gave me hope … That gave me the drive to go to practice and drive 35-40 minutes back to my house in San Antonio. We were evicted, but we were still millionaires. We had the financial ones Means to help the people in these places. And to hear these fans talk about football and that’s all they wanted, they wanted to see football, they wanted to know their team was playing. “
“Is this high school again?”
After determining that the Saints would stay in San Antonio for the season, players were told they could stay at the team hotel for two weeks. Some bought or rented houses, but many others lived in apartment complexes. Several players have credited Player Development Director Ricky Porter and other team officials with helping with the organization. But Porter didn’t usually have to coordinate such things for an entire roster at once, and all employees had to find their own places to live.
Karney: “Just total chaos. Find an apartment. Without our cars. Our cars were still stuck in the facility. Mr. Benson eventually got all of his dealership trucks to fetch all of our cars. But it was complete.” Madhouse trying to find an apartment for the first few days. And you know we should just pack a few days so no one has clothes. “
Haslett, whose family lived in the New Orleans area: “It was similar with players, people in the building, secretaries, everyone. You couldn’t just move to San Antonio because you didn’t know what was going to happen after the six months, and you had mortgages and rents in New Orleans. You could afford it? So it was hard. They had quit a couple of people and decided to return home, and that’s understandable. “
McAllister: “You usually see maybe five or ten people in the NFL, but it was like college to us. Every time you go out it was like, ‘All right, guys, we’re going to Fox and Hound tonight’ or “We’re going to Buffalo Wild Wings tonight.” And there were literally 30 people because no one really knew where to go. “
Karney: “It wasn’t like a brotherhood where we’d all meet. Once we settled down, it became a normal life. But it was nice to know you had teammates in the area. We spent Thanksgivings together “Christmas together because a lot of people didn’t have families there.”
Gandy: The first thing that pops out is how they did the modified weight room in the parking lot. It was like the Ringling Brothers, an old big top. … rotating ice baths or warm-up exercises in rubbish bins. … When you sit on those yellow buses and say, ‘Man, is this high school again?’ “
Karney: “We all had these electric scooters because it was so far from the Alamodome parking lot to get to the meeting rooms. … It was like we were a gang of bikers.”
Stallworth: “You get used to warming up a certain way and playing the game a certain way, and not having that was really hard. There wasn’t a regular chiropractor. I would actually have Dr. Rob [Lizana, from New Orleans] Come to San Antonio and he will live in my place. People would come to me and hear from Dr. Make Rob upset. “
Moors: “It was fun because when I was out later in the season like we’d been playing the jets. And while we were in that locker room the boys were excited that they had the little hot tub.”
Haslett: “The waterworks building sometimes had no electricity. We walked through the parking lot and when it rained I let people go out and sweep the puddles. One exercise, Joe Horn and two others I got lost because they couldn’t find the exercise field So we practiced without three of our starting wideouts. “
Gandy: “Part of being great at something is minimizing distractions and being able to focus. And when every aspect of the attempt is interrupted – ‘You have to drive over, take the bus here, the bus back, two of the buses it’s late ‘- you could see the guys start to fade away at some point. Especially every time you start losing. “
Karney: “Every time we rolled down the runway to fly to our home game or an away game – which was the same for all of us – I always said, ‘Man, this whole plane is sleeping.’ And we hadn’t even started yet. “
“The morale was gone”
The players were upset that Commissioner Paul Tagliabue and other senior NFL officials came to San Antonio very late in the season – and they informed him of this during a volatile meeting. (Tagliabue, who didn’t respond to an interview request, reportedly offered to meet the team twice on the street but was turned down by team officials who didn’t want such a meeting to take place the day before a game.) So did players upset that they couldn’t play all of their home games in San Antonio for stability and the appearance of a home advantage. And many believed that late-season refund payments of up to $ 40,000 per player were too little and too late.
Brooks, who turned down an interview request, was one of the most outspoken critics of Tagliabue and the League in an interview with Westwood One Radio in December 2005. Brooks also said that Benson could have done a better job to make the players comfortable – and he did later suggested that pronouncing contributed to its later publication. The Saints officials also declined to comment.
Karney: “There was trouble all the time. Probably after the New York Giants home game, the guys started saying, ‘That’s a bunch of B.S. man.’ This is not really about the welfare of us or this team. After that we just had no one to visit. I remember Paul Tagliabue coming at the end of the season. And Wayne Gandy, Kendyl Jacox Aaron Brooks, the boys just hammered him. Like, ‘This is a joke, you’re a joke, what are you doing here? Where were you week 2, week 1?’ “
Moors: “They let him have it. I had never seen anything like it.”
Gandy: “I was 12th or 13th year, so I was the old salty veteran. And I didn’t understand the logistics. It was like we were anonymous.”
McAllister who tore up his ACL in Week 5: “The team’s morale was gone well before December. We were angry and open from the start. And look, I respect the job Paul and the commissioner have, but it was really an insult to us.”
horn: “I had no illusions. We were professional soccer players and we were paid by the Benson family. Of course the Saints fans also paid for tickets. And I had no illusions that the NFL had to go on. Because it is a billion-dollar business. Up So practicing a high school field and driving 35-40 minutes across town to a mansion with a basketball court in your house wasn’t that hard. It obviously made it harder to win because we lost a few games. But at the end of the day we still had a job to do. “
Gandy: “[Saints officials] went through the same as we did. It’s hard to tell someone to do better when they’re in a storm too. They got on the same plane as us, these trainers, and they couldn’t go home either. So I thought the NFL would step in a little harder. “
Karney: “Benson gave us a speech [early on]: ‘Hard times don’t last long, hard people do. We it. ‘I remember Haslett had shirts made: “We do it.” It was weird because he was a man with very few words. But it gave us a bit of a rally scream. “
“You definitely heard the boos”
Benson drew a lot more backlash from the fan base because he might misplace the team. While the Saints were being hugged in San Antonio, the reception in Baton Rouge was downright harsh.
Moors: “The Alamodome rocked. And then you went to Baton Rouge, and obviously the whole region was dealing with the hurricane. So there were 10,000 or 15,000 people there. It felt like a high school game at times. There was certain things that got it out of hand, like the talk of staying and moving to San Antonio or whatever the NFL was doing, but if we had won, I don’t know if the reception would have been the same … And we don’t I imagine that helped create all of the frustrations fans felt. “
McAllister: “The fans were upset, we were upset and you just couldn’t get anything going. You definitely heard the boos.”
horn: “[San Antonio] was a beautiful place. They looked after us as best they could. But at the end of the day our home was back in Louisiana. That was my main goal for the soccer team. And some people gave no s —. Most wanted to stay in Texas; That’s just the truth. I was against it. I was on the other side of that line. “
McAllister: “For some people this was just a city they played football in. But for me it was my home. I remember the day [the Saints announced they would return to New Orleans] and say, “Man, we’re going home.” But there was still, “What will the home look like? What services are there? How will the drinking water be? ‘”
“It built this unity”
The team would look different too. Haslett and Brooks had both arrived in 2000, leading the Saints to a 6-6 record and the franchise’s first playoff win. But they went 7-9, 9-7, 8-8, and 8-8 for the next four years before the bottom started sloping in 2005. Haslett was fired and Brooks was released.
Haslett: “To be honest, I don’t think it’s fair that the staff was laid off after this year – and I probably brought it myself [by seeking a long-term extension instead of a shorter commitment]. I don’t know if that was a fair rating. “
Stallworth: “I don’t think Haslett got enough recognition for keeping the team together as well as possible.”
Moors: “Honestly, I feel bad for Has, I really do. Because he was put in an impossible situation. I think he was a fucking football coach.”
Gandy: “I was traded with the Falcons the next year, so I played that first game at the Superdome [the Saints’ legendary Monday night win, which began with a U2 and Green Day concert and was highlighted by Steve Gleason’s blocked punt]. And it seemed that the applause and mood for the team was from 2006 and onwards. I witnessed, “Wow, you’re talking about Sean Payton and Drew Brees and the new saints.” I still have a tiny pinch of cayenne pepper over these 2005 guys [who] deserves a little more applause. “
Moors: “[Gandy] it’s right. Because what we went through in ’05 definitely contributed to how well we did in ’06. “
Karney: “That’s why I was so emotional [in a photo of him crying on the sideline during the Monday night win]. I thought of everything we had been through. “
The late end of defensive Will Smith after the Saints won the Super Bowl in February 2010: “ It wasn’t a happy time to be a football player at this level. But the players actually did it at a good time. It brought the team closer and everyone wanted to play for everyone else. It created this unity and bond that you don’t really see in professional sport. “