NFL kicks off weekend with Katrina relief efforts

Updated: September 11, 2005, 5:47 PM ET
Associated Press

Saints fans got a chance to watch their team open the NFL season with a win Sunday on large TV screens in the Houston Astrodome and Reliant Center, which are housing more than 4,000 Hurricane Katrina evacuees.

Jerry Kimball
AP PhotoJerry Kimball of Baton Rouge, one of several hundred New Orleans evacuees now living in Charlotte, was given tickets to the game by the Panthers.

"It's to give them a chance to feel a little bit at home," said U.S. Coast Guard Lt. Joe Leonard, area commander for Houston shelter operations. "And some of them might actually be Saints fans."

Added Carlos Packnett, who got out of New Orleans on Sept. 1: "People need this to feel normal again. It's good to have some Sunday football."

The Saints won 23-20 at Carolina on a 47-yard John Carney field goal in the remaining seconds.

At a small bar on Bourbon Street, where a Saints football helmet was painted on the ceiling, Steve Bartley was among several French Quarter residents listening to the Saints game on a battery-powered radio.

"On Sundays, I'm usually at a bar watching the Saints. It would be nice if we could see them, but this is the best we could do," he said.

At the game, any Saints fans entering Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte was handed worry beads, a New Orleans tradition. Bank of America contributed $100,000 to hurricane relief.

At the Texans-Bills game in Orchard Park, N.Y., white doves were released after a moment of silence in remembrance of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and victims of Hurricane Katrina.

Outside Dolphins Stadium in Miami, Dolphins coach Nick Saban's wife, Terry, led a collection effort to aid Katrina victims that included cheerleaders, Dolphins alumni, staff and players' and coaches' wives. Saban joined the Dolphins after coaching at LSU in Baton Rouge, where the Saints are expected to play some home games this year.

Inside the stadium, the invocation by a Navy chaplain offered a prayer for Katrina's victims.

In Kansas City, Senia Shields, wife of Chiefs Pro Bowl guard Will Shields, and Miss Kansas, Adrienne Rosel, were among those collecting donations for hurricane victims outside the stadium. The Chiefs said Friday that players had committed $150,000 to relief efforts.

Appearing on Fox's pregame show, NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue said beginning Monday the league will look at LSU's stadium as a future home of the Saints. He is hopeful of announcing something this week about where the Saints' next three home games will be.

"Every team represents its city and the state where its team is," he said. "When we've had tragedies in the past -- earthquake in San Francisco, wildfires in San Diego -- we've kept the team close to home and they've managed to stay there for the long term. That is our goal here. That's the reason we're looking at Tiger Stadium in LSU to have the team play there as often as it can.

"As for the future, I've been reading about the business leadership, the political leadership determined to rebuild New Orleans and we hope to be part of that process and to be at the table."

Back in Houston, there was some good-natured jawing among fans, some rooting for the Saints, others sure they would lose. There were even a few bets laid on the outcome.

"This is good. It brings back the Mardi Gras spirit," said David Spears, who said he was holding onto his cash until next week. He wanted to size up the team in the first game before risking any money.

"I lost $20 on just about every game last season," Spears said.

Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press