With all the social pontificating going on around the NFL these days I hope that tonight someone shows a sign that reminds us of the inherent decency of people. It should say, “Thanks Paul Tagliabue.”

     We, as a city, are blessed that Tagliabue was the reigning commissioner of the NFL at the time of Hurricane Katrina. To me, he is one of the real heroes of the recovery. Without him there is a good chance that the city would have lost the Saints franchise to San Antonio, where the mayor there was ready to dance on our graves – even if we hadn’t died yet.

     Tagliabue, however said, “No.” He called the forces together and laid down the law. After a season near the Alamo, the Saints were going to return to New Orleans. Tom Benson, whose dedication to the city over time cannot be questioned, was understandably in a bad position. The Superdome had been devastated by the refugee effort; the city had lost its population. How can a NFL team operate in a market without people or a place to play?

     Still, Tagliabue insisted. He knew this was the decent thing to do. The NFL put money into rebuilding the Dome.  Tagliabue also orchestrated the team’s reentry. All preseason games that year were played on the road to allow more days for stadium remodeling. To give even more time, the Saints home opener was not played until the third week of the season. And then, another Tagliabue touch, that game would be on Monday Night Football against the Atlanta Falcons.

     Here is where magic intervened. Who would have thought that the Saints two opening road games, against the Cleveland Browns and Green Bay Packers, would be victories? After being away for a season the team returned home undefeated.

     Downtrodden New Orleanians were in a frenzy. That alone would give the game immortality, but there was more. This is the game that will forever be remembered by Steve Gleason’s blocked punt, which set up the team’s first touchdown. The Saint’s never looked back. Not all of life’s kicks can be blocked, nevertheless Gleason is already enshrined as a symbol of strength in the face of adversity.

     Tagliabue made that night possible and that was the beginning of the Saints miracle that would reach its pinnacle three years later in Miami. Even the commissioner must have been amazed at the sudden reversal.

     Tonight should be remembered as a tribute to Tagliabue for standing firm on corporate decency and to Steve Gleason for reminding us that all lives matter.




BOOK ANNOUNCEMENT: Errol’s Laborde’s book, “Mardi Gras: Chronicles of the New Orleans Carnival” (Pelican Publishing Company, 2013), is available at local bookstores and at book web sites.