Goodell, Tagliabue praise 'human spirit' in New Orleans

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 the scent
of fresh paint.

"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

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."