Saturday, September 3, 2005

They have endured 26 losing seasons in 38 years, covered their heads with bags out of shame for their team and celebrated only one playoff victory. But now New Orleans fans, after losing possibly all their worldly goods to Hurricane Katrina, also might lose the Saints.

The devastation that ripped holes in the roof of the Superdome might have left New Orleans uninhabitable for three to four months — so even if the stadium is repaired and power restored before then, there won’t be any fans to come to games.

The Saints’ scheduled home opener against the New York Giants on Sept. 18 yesterday was shifted to Giants Stadium sometime that weekend. The team has moved its offices and practices to San Antonio, and it’s likely its other “home” games will be played at Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge, 80 miles from New Orleans. But will they ever come back to New Orleans?

The Saints already were thought to be the leading candidate to become the NFL’s next team in Los Angeles, a dream commissioner Paul Tagliabue wants realized by 2008. Saints owner Tom Benson, who conveniently has a home and businesses in San Antonio, has fought with Louisiana officials for months over the state’s contribution to a renovation of the 30-year-old Superdome. The Saints’ lease runs through 2010, but Benson can get out of it by paying $81 million.

With the state facing so many more important needs, money for fixing the Superdome truly might be gone. And then so might the Saints.

What, me worry? — Indianapolis, picked by some to reach the Super Bowl, is 0-4 in preseason. The NFL’s top offense of 2004 had averaged 2.3 yards a carry and 41 rushing yards a game entering last night’s preseason finale. While Colts fans might be panicking, coach Tony Dungy is as serene as usual.

“Things are not always as they appear to be in preseason,” said Dungy, who has rested several starters. “We can’t take the approach that everything’s fine. [But] we also can’t take the approach that we’re 0-4 in the regular season, because we aren’t.”

Alex Gibbs lives on — Offensive lines coached by Alex Gibbs often were accused of dirty play, and that hasn’t stopped even though the 21-year NFL coaching veteran retired from Atlanta after last season. Tennessee coach Jeff Fisher, who employs cheap-shot specialist Chuck Cecil on his staff and was schooled by Buddy Ryan, was furious after his Titans played the Falcons on Aug. 19.

“I’ve never seen some of the things I saw out of their offensive line,” said Fisher, whose opinions carry weight because he’s co-chairman of the NFL’s competition committee. “Totally, totally unnecessary … blatant intent to hurt one of our defensive linemen.”

Shanahan pauses — The death of San Francisco guard Thomas Herrion in the locker room at Denver’s Invesco Field on Aug. 20 left Broncos coach Mike Shanahan especially shaken.

In 1973, while a junior quarterback at Eastern Illinois, Shanahan was speared in the back in a spring scrimmage. He likely would have died if roommate Mike Heimerdinger, now the New York Jets’ offensive coordinator, hadn’t returned from baseball practice to find him sprawled on his bed. One of Shanahan’s kidneys had split because of the hit. He was hemorrhaging so badly a priest administered last rites shortly after Shanahan arrived at the hospital. He was in critical condition for five days and never played again.

“My heart stopped for 40 seconds at the hospital,” Shanahan said. “They used [a defibrillator] on me to re-start it. I don’t think about it that much anymore [until] you see [similar] things happen.”

Quotable — Houston defensive coordinator Vic Fangio on tackle Travis Johnson, the Texans’ top draft pick: “Travis needs to pick it up and become more efficient. He’s got a good toolbox, but he’s not a carpenter yet.”

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