Tom Benson leaves behind salvaged Saints, Pelicans for New Orleans
WATCH LIVE: A second line for Tom Benson is under way in Treme.
Posted by WGNO – News With A Twist on Thursday, March 15, 2018
On a terribly sad day for New Orleans, and the state of Louisiana, it was nonetheless comforting to see the tributes to Saints and Pelicans owner Tom Benson come pouring in after his passing Wednesday.
We New Orleanians know how to celebrate everything, even death.
The second line to Benson’s statue at the Superdome was a fitting tribute to a man whose generosity has touched not only his state but the nation.
Mr. Benson’s relationship with his hometown wasn’t always that cozy though.
In the late 1990’s, after six consecutive losing seasons, the relationship with Mr. Benson and his extended Louisiana family was tenuous. Unhappy with the Superdome and his lease there, the Saints owner flirted with other cities.
When Katrina struck, and with the Saints in San Antonio, a region seriously wounded by a devastating hurricane wondered if there beloved Saints would ever return.
But, they did. What followed was an incredible 2006 season for the Saints and their fans.
The Saints, Tom Benson’s team, led a comeback.
Head coach Sean Payton, quarterback Drew Brees and running back Reggie Bush, all newcomers with no previous ties to the city, led the charge.
The Superdome rocked on a Monday night when Steve Gleason blocked a punt for a touchdown in a 23-3 win over the Falcons. Anyone who was there that night will never forget the moment.
It was much more than a game. It was a statement that New Orleans could bounce back.
Mr. Benson had always been philanthropic, but that pace picked after the storm.
Tom and Gayle Benson’s name are attached to everything from hospitals to Tulane’s Tom Benson Field at Yulman Stadium to Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium in Canton, Ohio.
Last August, it was an honor and a pleasure to be in attendance as the stadium in Canton was dedicated in Mr. Benson’s honor.
One of the real highlights was to listen to Morten Andersen, a 2017 Hall of Fame inductee, speak in glowing terms of his former boss.
“Tom Benson is a self-made man,” said Andersen. “His reach extends way past Jefferson and Orleans Parish.”
Mr. Benson deserved every accolade.
It is ironic that such an iconic figure in our city’s history passes as we celebrate our 300th birthday.
In 1985, with the future of the Saints in southeast Louisiana very shaky, Mr. Benson kept the team here.
Fast forward 27 years when basketball in New Orleans was in much the same precarious spot. Mr. Benson kept the NBA’s Hornets here and changed their name to one that was so identifiable to our culture.
The Pelicans take flight in the Crescent City.
Mrs. Benson has some huge shoes to fill. New Orleans may be a small city in comparison to many of our NFL and NBA brethren. However, it is only one of 20 cities that can claim both an NFL and NBA team.
It is elite territory.
Tom Benson is responsible for that. His legacy should be that both the Saints and Pelicans are here for decades to come.
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WGNO Sports Director/106.1 FM
Ed is a New Orleans native, born at Baptist Hospital. He graduated Rummel High School, class of 1975, and subsequently graduated from Loyola University. Ed started in TV in 1977 as first sports intern at WVUE Channel 8. He became Sports Director at KPLC TV Channel 7 in Lake Charles in 1980. In 1982 he was hired as sports reporter…