The New York Giants played host to the New Orleans Saints in its first home game after the September 11 tragedy in 2001. The league did not panic and force the Giants to play the game in New Orleans, although fans would have understood. Anxiety was still high in New York and who would want to play a game while the smoke still plumed from the World Trade Center wreckage across the river?
The NFL felt that life needed to go on. That a football game might help settle the nerves of a community that needed a three-hour break from the worries of the world.
It is a shame that the NFL could not provide the same relief to the New Orleans Saints, its fans, and the battered region of the gulf coast. Instead the NFL showed that the football world still revolves around New York. But thankfully, some members of the Saints came forward on Tuesday to voice their displeasure.
"They could have done that anywhere," Saints coach Jim Haslett said. "They could have played that game in Baton Rouge. They could have played it in San Antonio and could have done the same thing.
"To play it in Giants Stadium, to give them another home game and to put us in a situation where we couldn't hear. ... It wasn't why we lost that game, but ... "
NFL apologists will note that it is only a football game. With all the destruction is it really appropriate to even care about a football game? It is. To try to sweep the NFL's knee-jerk reaction under the rug using that logic is the type of tactic typically reserved for Barry Bonds when he is asked about steroids.
"It wasn't a home game," Haslett said. "I look up at the scoreboard and there are signs, 'Let's Go Giants'. The referees, when they flipped the coin, they asked us if we wanted heads or tails. They had no idea who the home team was and who was away. The crowd noise we had to deal with, we never had to do a silent at home."
The NFL, to its credit, did raise $5 million for Hurricane Katrina relief. But couldn't the league have held its telethon in New York while the game was played at Reliant Stadium in Houston? Couldn't the league have, instead of charging for tickets, offered free admission to displaced New Orleans residents at Reliant Stadium?
"They made this seem like the Super Bowl," quarterback Aaron Brooks said. "We played a team that outplayed us today, but it was way overdone. Setting up a stage, traveling out here, was uncalled for. Try not to patronize us next time, traveling us to New York, saying we're playing a home game."
If the situation was reversed, would the NFL had made the Giants play a "home" game in New Orleans? History says no, and the Saints players and coaches have a right to be upset.