This is Diana Nyad for KCRW, and this is The Score. The argument comes up every year. Should the National Football League shorten their pre-season schedule? Every game during the regular season lengthens the list of Who's Who among the injured. And thus there are those who feel that four pre-season games in the August heat are too many to have any chance of keeping a season-long, healthy team together. The pre-season always wins out, though, because arguments on the other side are too strong. First, practice, scrimmaging against your own guys, even full contact in pads, never replicates the adrenaline and performance of competition against another team. When teams who played each other in August meet up again in November, both sides definitely remember what happened. Also, the summer is a cutting process for NFL coaches. Players are under scrutiny throughout the summer training camps, but the heavy scalpel comes out in August, when many non-starter players are basically auditioning week by week to escape the final cut and make it onto the official 53-man roster.
So there was tension this past week-end when the New Orleans Saints prepared for their last pre-season game, set for this Thursday in Oakland. Coaches conferred and made notes on their clipboards as to who should get some quality time in this last audition game. Players crossed every "T;" on every drill, hoping to get to show their stuff in Oakland. These guys have been among the elite of their respective peer groups all their young lives. Since elementary school, they've been the fastest, the strongest, the best athletes on the block, in the neighborhood, at school, in the state. But as the clock winds down on the last pre-season game, it becomes evident. Instead of getting their playbooks for the first regular season game, at least a few of them will join all the other NFL cuts in the Hall of Broken Dreams.
Travel plans were all set for the Saints to head out to California. Just then, Katrina was making her way across the Gulf of Mexico, her sights on the Gulf Coast -- and New Orleans. So the Saints organization pushed the trip up by a day and they got out of town on Sunday, the same time tens of thousands of other Louisiana citizens were fleeing their homes. Not one of them could have imagined what wrath would crash ashore on Sunday night.
One of the first images to be broadcast in the immediate aftermath of the storm mid-day on Monday was the partially ripped roof of the New Orleans Superdome. Two thousand miles away, the Saints saw their football home leaking, and they struggled to discover news of their own homes and families. The game in Oakland will still be played Thursday night, and many young men will have their immediate futures determined on the basis of that game... yet, at the moment, the Saints have a new perspective on the importance of this football game.
Aside from the Saints and many college athletes who play for various teams in the Gulf Coast area, there are dozens of athletes from the area who are playing sports in other areas of the country. And they've been worried sick since Katrina whipped through on Monday. Green Bay Packer quarterback Brett Favre couldn't sleep when he heard his mother, two brothers, and other members of his family refused to evacuate Kiln, Mississippi. They spent the night huddled in the attic as the eye of the storm crunched through their very town. They all lived but Favre's mother's house was destroyed and will next face a bulldozer.
Chicago Bulls player Chris Duhon heard friends and family back in his home town of Slidell, Louisiana, survived but in seeing the storm's aftermath on the news, Duhon started his Standing Tall Foundation to provide cash and goods in the relief effort.
On Sunday, as Katrina pushed North toward the Gulf Coast, a New York Jets lineman named Michael King, from Natchitoches, Louisiana, watched the weather reports and predicted what eerily came to be true just 24 hours later. King said, "The; first hard hurricane to hit New Orleans is pretty much going to take it off the map."
We are very sorry to report that Michael King called it exactly right.
This is Diana Nyad for KCRW, and that's The Score.
Listen as guest host Diana Nyad speaks wtih emergency relief workers in Louisiana and Mississippi on today's To the Point. (You'll also find a list of relief organizations acception donations for those hard hit by Katrina.)