NEW ORLEANS - 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 Monday night 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 a 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.”
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.
The nation grieved for those hurt, killed and affected by the Boston Marathon bombings. After one of the suspects was caught on Friday — following a day-long lockdown and manhunt — sports returned to Boston over the weekend.
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