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Saints Plan to Play at Home in 2006

From the Associated Press

The New Orleans Saints will return to Louisiana in 2006, that much seems certain. Exactly when and where they will play games appears fuzzier.

The owner says maybe as early as Sept. 15 in the Superdome, which was ravaged in August by Hurricane Katrina.

The NFL commissioner says, “It’s too early to say.”

The two made separate statements Friday about the team’s future, and while both were upbeat, Paul Tagliabue was far more cautious in setting a timetable or even a site for the Saints’ first game back home.

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“There are a lot of things yet to be accomplished to make it more than a one-year arrangement,” he said after meeting with Saint players and coaches for about five hours.

Asked whether the New Orleans market could support an NFL team long-term, he said, “We think it can, but it’s not a slam dunk.”

Earlier Friday, owner Tom Benson released a memo that said not only were the Saints hoping to be back in the dome in the fall, they were returning to their Louisiana practice complex next month in Metairie.

“We are working in Louisiana to play as many games as possible in the Superdome, which may be ready in September,” he said.

Tagliabue wouldn’t rule out more games in San Antonio in 2006. Bill Curl, a Superdome spokesman, called the projection “not totally conclusive, but within the realm of possibility.”

“It probably won’t be absolutely complete, but we could be able to safely and comfortably accommodate a capacity crowd,” he said. “There could be some unfinished painting and some work going on in back-of-the-house areas or finishing the trim in the suites, but you could still be there. ... Whenever it is ready -- and, hopefully, in September -- it certainly will be a national event and a lot of eyes will be focused on the dome and saying, ‘Wow, they did it.’ That’s why this urgency to get it ready is so important.”

Benson said the Saints’ return would pump a projected $550 million in economic benefits back into the state.

“In the spirit of the rebuilding of New Orleans, we are fully committed to making the Saints better than ever,” he said.

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This season the Saints have played one “home” game in New Jersey, three in San Antonio and four in Baton Rouge, La. The Saints averaged about 40,000 fans at LSU’s Tiger Stadium and more than 60,000 at the Alamodome, while stumbling to a 3-12 record.

Asked whether Benson was reluctant to return to Louisiana amid suspicions he wanted to move the team elsewhere, Tagliabue said: “Like everybody else, Mr. Benson has been dealing with things he felt he never would have to deal with. He’s been looking at all alternatives, both pros and cons, short term and long term.”

But Tagliabue also said it was Benson who urged the team’s return to Metairie.


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