METAIRIE, La. - Welcome to Emeril’s. Today’s special: Reggie Bush.
Bon appetit, New Orleans.
Saints coach Sean Payton got the surprise news in a phone call during dinner at one of celebrity chef Emeril Legasse’s New Orleans restaurants on the eve of Saturday’s NFL draft. The Houston Texans had committed to North Carolina State defensive end Mario Williams, essentially serving up Bush on a platter to the Saints, who had the second overall pick.
The coach didn’t need much time to think about it, making up his mind “somewhere between the minestrone soup and the red fish.”
Saturday morning, about 1,500 frenzied Saints fans jammed into a tent next to training headquarters in suburban New Orleans, shouting “Reggie, Reggie,” as New Orleans went on the clock. Some joked they were planning their escape, saying they feared a riot would break out if anyone other than Southern California’s Heisman Trophy running back was taken.
“Yeah, and I was going to start it,” said a grinning Claude Maher, a season ticket holder who’s home in suburban Chalmette was obliterated by Hurricane Katrina.
Instead, people who had lost everything eight months ago celebrated like they’d hit the jackpot when a large flat screen TV showed NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue making it official: Bush was a Saint.
The crowd roared, arms raised. Salvation had come. His name was Bush, and it wasn’t the president of the United States, whose visit a couple days earlier hadn’t generated nearly as much fanfare.
“Did you hear that uprising? I thought that tent was going to blow over. It was almost as loud as the dome,” said fan Justin Joliboix, referring to the Louisiana Superdome, where storm damage is being repaired for the coming football season.
Few in New Orleans expected Bush to be available, believing that the Texans could not possibly pass up the flashy running back who seems to draw so many comparisons to Hall-of-Famer Gale Sayers. For the Saints, who already have a strong running back in Deuce McAllister, much of the focus had been on more obvious needs, such as on the offensive line and at linebacker.
But Bush — who in college caught passes and returned kicks with the same sensational results as he achieved running out of the backfield — was too tantalizing to pass up.
“He’s lightning on the field. Obviously we’re excited to have him just as the fans are,” Saints general manager Mickey Loomis said. “He stands out to everyone. I think that’s self-evident. It seems like every game’s a highlight reel for him.”
Bush said he was not disappointed that he was not taken first overall, and saw playing in New Orleans as an opportunity to boost morale in the storm-torn Gulf South.
“I could possibly bring some smiles back to the faces,” Bush said. “Any organization that’s pumped up about me makes me feel good and want to go there and play.”
The Saints “have some weapons,” Bush added. “We should be able to compete next year.”
Having just returned to New Orleans after a year in San Antonio, Baton Rouge and extra time on the road, the Saints are trying to strengthen their fan base in a rebuilding city. Bush was the obvious choice from a marketing standpoint.
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