Aftermath of hurricane weighs on Saints' minds
SAN JOSE, Calif. -- Katrina kicked them out of their house, so they ended up here. Here is the sloped, uneven practice field at San Jose State University, where the New Orleans Saints are calling home until further notice.
It looked and sounded like a routine practice. There was stretching, seven-on-seven, and team period. But when the final horn sounded Monday, and the players filed off the field, it was apparent that the Saints had suddenly become the league's only nomadic franchise.
Defensive coordinator Rick Venturi slowly walked over to a bench, sat down and sighed. Not only is Venturi recovering from recent back surgery, the business of fleeing storms has become somewhat routine.
"It was about this time last year that we went to San Antonio to get away from Ivan," Venturi said. "I think we were lucky because it hit west instead of east."
Despite that bit of fortune, Venturi is rather matter of fact on his expectations. "I still expect our houses to be under water," he said.
Coach Jim Haslett had a similar view as he measured the predicament in relative terms. In recent days, the Superdome's structural foundation has been compared to Rome's infamous Coliseum, but after Hurricane Katrina's 145-mph winds sheared off portions of the dome's roof -- even ripped two holes in it -- that seems rather far-fetched.
"If something can happen to the Superdome," Haslett said, "imagine what the city must look like."
While New Orleans the City was stung by treacherous wind, heavy rain and flooding, the Saints were across the country under clear skies. Second-year middle linebacker Courtney Watson and his fellow backers didn't seem especially worried during practice. They joked during tackling drills, and the entire team maintained an upbeat tempo throughout the workout.
But afterward, Watson, who lives in the French Quarter and only brought enough clothing for the week, confessed that the real question wasn't what was happening back in New Orleans but what will happen after Thursday night's preseason game against the Raiders in Oakland.
As no one knows how extensive the damage is in New Orleans, the Saints could be homeless.
|“||If something can happen to the Superdome, imagine what the city must look like. ”|
|— Jim Haslett|
"We're prepared to do whatever we have to do to stay here or move somewhere else," Haslett said.
"I don't know if we can go back to New Orleans or if we're going to Carolina (the site of their season opener; the Saints play host to the Giants on Sept. 18)," Watson said.
Saints general manager Mickey Loomis said the team was uncertain if the stadium would be ready for the home opener Sept. 18 against the New York Giants.
With a shrug, Watson considered another possibility. "Or maybe we'll just be staying here for a while."
For now, no one knows. And since one of the basic rules of football is no self-pity, the Saints' routine won't change. After arriving here Sunday afternoon, the players and coaches set up shop at the Fremont Marriott, about 20 minutes from San Jose State. Monday morning, they had the usual 8 a.m. meetings, then hopped on a bus for San Jose State for a noon practice. This meant no one had a chance to watch the news and what may have become of their homes.
"Just have to wait and see," Watson said.
But receiver Michael Lewis, who was born and raised in New Orleans, has an entirely different take. When the team boarded its charter flight to California, Lewis left his grandparents behind.
"This is my job," he said. "I know I have to do this here. It's hard because my grandparents actually raised me. I talked to them this morning, but [the eye of Katrina] hadn't passed over yet. It still was going on, so I really didn't know what was going on. I hadn't heard from them since. I've tried to call home, but everything is busy, so I didn't get the chance to call back to them for a second time."
Lewis watched the Weather Channel all night before falling asleep. I finally got an hour [of sleep] in," he said. "Laying in my bed trying to get rest was hard, because my grandparents were home. That's what was on my mind the whole time."
Alan Grant is a regular contributor to ESPN.com and ESPN The Magazine and also writes for Page 2. He is a former NFL defensive back who played college football at Stanford.
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