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Barry Hirstius

Tom Benson’s Enduring Legacy: Making Sure the Saints ALWAYS STAY in NOLA

"Getting old". It happens to all of us at some point in life, and at 90 years old, Saints owner Tom Benson had lived a life that most native New Orleanians could ever dream of living; as a successful self-made billionaire and businessman, mostly through his car dealerships based in Louisiana and Texas.

Benson died yesterday in the 90th year of his life, leaving behind both New Orleans pro sports franchises — the New Orleans Saints of the NFL and the New Orleans Pelicans of the NBA — to his wife, 71-year old Gayle Benson.

As word of Benson's unfortunate passing spread throughout the Who Dat Nation yesterday afternoon, many found the time to honor and pay tribute to the man that saved the team from moving to Jacksonville, Florida back during the spring of 1985, which was 33 years ago.

Photo courtesy of The New Orleans Times-Picayune

But Benson's enduring legacy will be the fact that long after he's gone, that both teams will STAY in the city that he grew up in and loved so very much.

How do I know this? 

Two reasons: The first of which is that Benson had already planned ahead for yesterday's events, by making sure his wife was well-versed in the goings-on of ownership, and the power structure beneath her is already in place to assure that both teams will continue operations without any problems.

As noted by New Orleans Advocate beat writer Nick Underhill: despite Tom Benson's passing yesterday, the Saints will still continue to sign free agents, and the Pelicans will prepare for this weekend’s games against the Houston Rockets and Boston Celtics.

And Reason #2?

Because like her husband was, Gayle is a native of New Orleans as well — and just as it was with her late husband, Gayle is equally devoted to her hometown as he had been. It was actually one of the things that attracted them to each other when they first met and then were eventually married back in 2004.

Born Gayle Marie LaJaunie, the new owner of the Saints grew up in Algiers; which is across the Mississippi River on the "West Bank" of New Orleans. She attended St. Joseph, St. Anthony and Holy Name of Mary schools; and graduated from Martin Behrman High School in 1966.

Bottom line: Gayle is prepared to make certain that her late husband's biggest wish before his passing, is fulfilled: which is to ensure that both the Saints and Pelicans ALWAYS STAY in NOLA.

Photo courtesy of The New Orleans Times-Picayune

Does that mean that she won't turn around and decide to sell the teams one day?

No, unfortunately it does not.

But the woman who now has become the 4th female owner in the NFL (along with 3 more of the NFL's 32 teams: the Titans, Bears, and Lions) and the only female to have a franchise in both the NFL as well as the NBA — has not given any indication that she plans to do otherwise.

So if you're a Saints fan right now and you find yourself with the "uneasy feeling" that something bad could potentially happen in the future, you aren't alone.

But until that actually happens — if it even happens at all — then the focus for now instead should remain right where it is this morning:

Which is honoring and paying tribute to the wonderful man that 33 years ago, "put his money where his mouth is" and made sure that the Saints NFL franchise remains the NEW ORLEANS Saints.

Keeping the Saints in NOLA was always the #1 priority for Tom Benson.

And for those who still harbor ill-will towards him for his actions in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, GET OVER YOURSELVES.

The days, weeks, and months after Katrina were tough for ALL of us that lived (and still live) in New Orleans at that time, and it wasn't any less difficult for Tom Benson, who had multiple people in his ear telling him that he should "get out" of New Orleans as quickly as he possibly could.

But ultimately, Tom Benson chose to STAY in New Orleans.

4 short years later, he devotion to his hometown was rewarded with a Lombardi Trophy after the Saints defeated the Indianapolis Colts in Super Bowl XLIV, and cementing his legacy as the most beloved figures EVER in the city of New Orleans' now 300-year history.

Photo courtesy of The Palm Beach Post

It's a legacy that still endures to this day.

And it's one that will endure long after his untimely passing, yesterday afternoon.

On behalf of the Saints News Network, we send our condolences to Gayle and their entire family.

And we say "thank you" to Tom Benson, for all that he did to keep the team that many of us (including myself) grew up with as natives of New Orleans, ourselves.

Photo courtesy of USA TODAY Sports

Goodbye, Mr. B.

May you rest forever in eternal peace.

We'll always remember you  — and it won't be quite the same without you.........


Big Easy Magazine contributing writer and Saints News Network columnist Barry Hirstius is a 51-year old semi-retired journalist, former New Orleans-area sports editor, and writer previously with several sites that exclusively cover the New Orleans Saints football team. Additionally, he is a recurring guest on a variety of local Sports Talk Radio programs. Barry is also a New Orleans native who grew up as a fan of the team while attending games as a young boy at the old Tulane Stadium in the early 1970’s, originally following and now covering the team for a span of over 40 plus years. And perhaps most importantly of all: he is the Grandfather of two beautiful young girls, Jasmine and Serenity.....

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