Originally created 08/29/98

Stranded Saints take hard hit from Georges

INDIANAPOLIS -- Unable to return home because of the lashing rain from Hurricane Georges, the New Orleans Saints and their fans scrambled for hotel rooms in what suddenly became a longer stay in Indianapolis.

With their rooms at the downtown Omni Severin hotel taken over by arriving conventioneers, the Saints checked out for new lodgings. Fans waited in the lobby while tour leaders worked the phones looking for rooms and new flight reservations.

"We bend with the wind," said Bryan Guillot of Baton Rouge, La.

Added Howard Moreaux of Harahan, La.: "When it gets bad, you know you have to evacuate, so this is just another way of evacuating."

The Saints, who defeated the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday, had been scheduled to return home, but Hurricane Georges closed New Orleans' airport.

"You can't worry about what you can't control, and you can't control that situation. The main thing for (the players) to know is their families are safe," coach Mike Ditka said.

Lineman Chris Naeole said his wife and two children left New Orleans to stay with family in Houston, carrying with them insurance papers and a videotape of their belongings.

"I took it right before we left and made sure we got it packed away. It's all you can do," Naeole said.

Ditka said the delay in returning to New Orleans won't affect preparation for next week's home game against New England.

"It shouldn't be that much of an inconvenience," Ditka said.

Joe Impastato, a Metairie, La., restaurateur who organized the away-game trip for dozens of customers, spoke between phone conversations in search of new arrangements.

"I brought them in," he said. "I got to try to get them out."

Cameron Cleeland, who scored the overtime touchdown that gave the Saints a 19-13 comeback victory Sunday, felt lucky about his circumstances.

"It's not a huge distraction to me because I don't have a lot of family down there," he said. "I got a car of mine and a rental house. A lot of people are worried about their families. ... I'm just worried about getting back and (finding) that all my stuff is not trashed."

Georges spared New Orleans a direct hit, stalling and weakening Monday after moving ashore on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

"Yesterday was our lucky day," said Danny Sauls of Gretna, La. "The Saints pull it out, and the hurricane changes course."

Saints fans were drawn to the Indianapolis game by old loyalties to former coach Jim Mora -- now coach of the Colts -- and Colts quarterback Peyton Manning, a New Orleans native and son of former Saints quarterback Archie Manning.

"People love Archie Manning," said Marilyn Campeaux, membership chairman of the Saints booster club. "And we love Peyton, and we want him to do well, starting today."

Then she headed out for a quick shopping trip.

"I'm off to buy some clean socks," she said. "Have everything else, but ran out of socks."


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