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For Saints, Routine Is Welcome Relief

Team Puts Aside Hurricane Worries

By Mark Maske

Washington Post Staff Writer

Wednesday, September 10, 2008; E01

The New Orleans Saints have only a football game to worry about this week. They can spend the week preparing at their practice facility in Metairie, La., and then travel east at week's end to face the Washington Redskins on Sunday at FedEx Field.

How simple.

Too often in recent years, things have been far more complicated for the Saints. Readying for football games has come only after finding ways to sidestep natural disasters and reorder disrupted lives. The Saints were displaced from New Orleans for an entire season after Hurricane Katrina devastated the city in 2005; they were reminded of that trying experience last week when New Orleans was evacuated for Hurricane Gustav and the Saints spent the week practicing in Indianapolis.

They and almost everyone else on the Gulf Coast were relieved when Gustav turned out not nearly as destructive to the region as Katrina, and the Saints were able to play at the Superdome on Sunday and beat Tampa Bay in their opener.

There were more storm worries in recent days with Hurricane Ike. But the latest reports have it projected to be headed south and west of New Orleans toward Texas, and the Saints intend to stay put this week.

"We started planning for it over the weekend," Saints General Manager Mickey Loomis said yesterday in a telephone interview. "We had our eye on this storm and had some conversations Saturday and Sunday. Since then, every report we got was a little better, that it was going further west and south of us. This is just something we have to deal with. It's a fact of life where we live here.

"I feel like we have a real good handle on the timing now. We know what we have to do five days out, four days out. We know when we need to make decisions. We didn't have that prior to Katrina. The real key is to make sure everyone gets their family and personal situations squared away first."

The Saints drew on their Katrina experience last week. After Katrina, they spent the 2005 season based in San Antonio and split their home games between that city and Baton Rouge, La.

With Gustav headed toward the Gulf Coast, the Saints spent last week practicing at Lucas Oil Stadium, the Colts' new stadium. They called about the availability of the RCA Dome, the Colts' old stadium. It wasn't available, but Colts President Bill Polian offered use of the new facility. The Saints had to scramble to find more than 100 hotel rooms, and they were to be split between two hotels until one of them found extra rooms at the last minute.

"The first part of any plan, we learned, was every member of the team had an opportunity to go get their family situated somewhere, get their family to safety," Loomis said. "That was first. We had time to do that before we left New Orleans. In a lot of cases, guys did that and then met us."

The post-Katrina experience "is always on your mind to some degree because of the impact it had on our community," Loomis said. "We tried to use it as a positive for us as we went through this last experience, remembering what we did well and trying to learn from what we could have done better. We said, 'Let's draw from that experience and apply it to this.' But then when you're sitting there Monday night watching CNN and waiting for the storm to hit New Orleans, you flash back to some of the things that were not so good. You can't help it. But the information early on was pretty clear that Gustav would not be nearly as bad for the city as Katrina was."

The Saints went back to New Orleans late last week to find only superficial wind damage to their headquarters. The biggest problems they encountered back home, Loomis said, were downed trees and widespread power outages. But all was well for them by Sunday, when quarterback Drew Brees threw for 343 yards and three touchdowns in the 24-20 triumph, reinforcing the notion the Saints can rebound from a 7-9 record a year ago to resemble the team that reached the NFC title game in the 2006 season.

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