NEW ORLEANS (Sept. 25, 2006) -- New NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and predecessor Paul Tagliabue said the NFL threw a "Hail Mary pass" when it committed late last December to return to this storm-ravaged city, "and the people of this region caught it."
They spoke as an excited sellout crowd began filtering into the refurbished Louisiana Superdome, which was glittering from an array of new high-tech video boards and had a freshly painted scent.
"The facility looks terrific. It's clearly football-ready," Goodell said. "Tonight is obviously more than just a game. This means more to this community and more to this region ... an opportunity to show the world the human spirit that exists here."
Goodell said he was committed to carrying forward the effort Tagliabue put in to re-establishing the NFL in New Orleans after the team was displaced for the entire 2005 season by Hurricane Katrina.
According to Goodell, the NFL contributed about $20 million to the effort to rebuild the Louisiana Superdome. The $185 million job included a new roof, thousands of new seats, new video and sound systems and new concession stands. It was all preceded by an enormous cleaning and gutting job after as many as 30,000 storm victims who took shelter there had been taken out of the city.
By gametime, the stadium was jammed with jubilant spectators, and is expected to be packed for all eight regular-season games, which are sold out.
"The Saints have been a unifying force in New Orleans for 40 years now," said Saints executive Rita LeBlanc, granddaughter of owner Tom Benson. "We are proud to use this occasion to announce to the world that New Orleans is open for business."
Many of those in the stands have come back to live in apartments or trailers while they try to repair flooded homes, and some came to the game from other cities in the region where they continue to live since being displaced.
They roared when the Saints ran out on to the field.
Tagliabue further praised the people of the Gulf region for the Saints' successful return to the Superdome and for making possible a celebratory event of Super Bowl proportions.
"Tonight the word homecoming will take on a new meaning and will forever be redefined by what is happening here in the Superdome," Tagliabue said. "Most of the credit for that ... goes to the people of Louisiana and the Gulf Coast region, who have been and continue to be Saints fans, and many of them are just fans for each other and the rebuilding effort in this area."