NFL teams help Katrina victims

Posted: Monday, September 12, 2005

NEW ORLEANS — A dozen weary police officers, on duty since before Hurricane Katrina hit, clustered around a police car for a rare break Sunday — and listened to the New Orleans Saints beat the Carolina Panthers.

''Man, this is what we needed,'' said James Porter, a patrol officer. ''This almost makes you feel normal again.''

Porter had rigged up a television on the front passenger seat.

But the televised game was Denver-Miami. It was ignored, while the radio broadcast of the Saints game was what everyone focused on.

Porter claimed to bleed the Saints' colors of black and gold.

''When he was born, he was wrapped in a Fleur d'Lis blanket,'' another officer said, referring to the Saints symbol.

Porter said he lost his house and all his possessions in the flood that followed Katrina.

''It's all gone,'' he said. ''I'm homeless.''

At the police staging area under the downtown Harrah's Casino canopy, officer Derek Brunfield was listening to the game on the radio of the Mobile Police Command Center.

''LSU won last night and now the Saints are up,'' Brunfield said. ''Things are definitely looking up.''

Flood waters still cover Brunfield's house.

''My family's safe, so things aren't as bad as they could be,'' he said.

Bud Hawkins, a truck driver who had just delivered a load of ice, sat on the steps of Harrah's listening to a small portable radio.

''It's LSU on Saturday and the Saints on Sunday,'' Hawkins said. ''Man, those Tigers gave everybody a shot in the arm last night. Now, the Saints are capping it off.''

JaMarcus Russell passed 39 yards to Early Doucet for a last minute touchdown that handed the No. 5 Tigers a 35-31 victory over No. 15 Arizona State. The game was not televised in New Orleans, leaving even those with power listening to a radio broadcast.

At a small bar on Bourbon Street, where a Saints football helmet was painted on the ceiling, Steve Bartley was among several French Quarter residents listening to the Saints game on a battery-powered radio.

''On Sundays, I'm usually at a bar watching the Saints. It would be nice if we could see them, but this is the best we could do,'' he said.

Bartley pumped his fist when the Saints picked off a pass in the third quarter, then shook his head when the team subsequently fumbled near the goal line.

''Yep, that's the normal Saints,'' he said.

In Houston, Saints fans got a chance to watch their team open the NFL season with a victory on large TV screens in the Astrodome and Reliant Center, which are housing more than 4,000 Hurricane Katrina evacuees.

''It's to give them a chance to feel a little bit at home,'' said U.S. Coast Guard Lt. Joe Leonard, area commander for Houston shelter operations. ''And some of them might actually be Saints fans.''

Added Carlos Packnett, who got out of New Orleans on Sept. 1: ''People need this to feel normal again. It's good to have some Sunday football.''

At the game, any Saints fans entering Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte was handed worry beads, a New Orleans tradition. Bank of America contributed $100,000 to hurricane relief.

At the Texans-Bills game in Orchard Park, N.Y., white doves were released after a moment of silence in remembrance of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and victims of Hurricane Katrina.

Outside Dolphins Stadium in Miami, Dolphins coach Nick Saban's wife, Terry, led a collection effort to aid Katrina victims that included cheerleaders, Dolphins alumni, staff and players' and coaches' wives. Saban joined the Dolphins after coaching at LSU in Baton Rouge, where the Saints are expected to play some home games this year.

Inside the stadium, the invocation by a Navy chaplain offered a prayer for Katrina's victims.

In Kansas City, Senia Shields, wife of Chiefs Pro Bowl guard Will Shields, and Miss Kansas, Adrienne Rosel, were among those collecting donations for hurricane victims outside the stadium. The Chiefs said Friday that players had committed $150,000 to relief efforts.

At the Chicago-Washington game in Landover, Md., Redskins wives and military volunteers collected $63,000 from fans at various dropoff points in the stadium for Hurricane Katrina relief.

Appearing on Fox's pregame show, NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue said beginning Monday the league will look at LSU's stadium as a future home of the Saints. He is hopeful of announcing something this week about where the Saints' next three home games will be.

''Every team represents its city and the state where its team is,'' he said. ''When we've had tragedies in the past — earthquake in San Francisco, wildfires in San Diego — we've kept the team close to home and they've managed to stay there for the long term. That is our goal here. That's the reason we're looking at Tiger Stadium in LSU to have the team play there as often as it can.

''As for the future, I've been reading about the business leadership, the political leadership determined to rebuild New Orleans and we hope to be part of that process and to be at the table.''

Back in Houston, there was some good-natured jawing among fans, some rooting for the Saints, others sure they would lose. There were even a few bets laid on the outcome.

''This is good. It brings back the Mardi Gras spirit,'' said David Spears, who said he was holding onto his cash until next week. He wanted to size up the team in the first game before risking any money.

''I lost $20 on just about every game last season,'' Spears said.

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