METAIRIE — The New Orleans Saints Hall of Fame broke with protocol to accommodate former Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco.
But Blanco plans to show that the accommodation was unnecessary.
The Saints and their Hall of Fame announced Wednesday that former running back Reggie Bush and former wide receiver Marques Colston will be inducted on Oct. 25.
Blanco was selected to receive the Joe Gemelli Fleur-de-Lis award, which is presented annually to someone other than football operations and primary front-office personnel who contributes significantly to the good of the franchise.
Traditionally the Fleur-de-Lis award winner receives their award at the induction ceremony, but on Wednesday, Saints owner Gayle Benson presented the award to Blanco, 78, who has been battling incurable melanoma at her home in Lafayette.
Blanco’s latest round of radiation treatments was suspended Tuesday and she felt well enough Wednesday morning to make the two-hour ride with several family members to the Saints headquarters.
“I am more than thrilled simply to be here today,” Blanco said. “I do have a lot of challenges ahead of me and I’m going to plan to be here in October.”
Blanco, an Iberia Parish native who served as Louisiana’s only female governor from 2004-08, was honored for her leadership in expediting legislation to fund the repair and re-opening of the Superdome in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
The storm ripped open a hole in the stadium’s roof in August, 2015, forcing the Saints to relocate to San Antonio for that season. The stadium reopened in September 2016 as rookie head coach Sean Payton and a team featuring Bush and Colston from a standout draft class that year advanced to the NFC Championship for the first time.
“We all came to the Saints in a greater, more intensified way in 2006,” Blanco said. “In that period after Katrina it became imperative that we all had to call on the deepest parts of ourselves to do the most intense work that any of us had ever thought about having to do and that was to recover — an entire community, a city, a region of the state that had been totally devastated.
“Every time I looked at the Superdome with the roof just ripped (open) it was the symbol of despair. I thought, if we drive around every single day looking at the symbol of despair, we’re all going to despair. We’ve got to change that image and make this a symbol of victory.”
The Saints split their 2005 home games between San Antonio, Baton Rouge and even New Jersey while the Superdome and the entire Gulf Region were being repaired.
The team sold out on season tickets for the first time shortly after returning in 2006 and has done so ever since.
“We could not have had the same kind of recovery that we have experienced without the Saints creating enthusiasm,” Blanco said. “The Superdome did become a symbol of victory. People who were working on smaller properties looked at that and said if anybody can do that huge property we can do our property.”
Blanco, who did not seek re-election in 2007, acknowledged that the restoration of the Superdome “didn’t come without me having to pay a price for being told that I had the wrong priorities using money for a stadium.”
“But at the same time,” Blanco added, “I knew that the value was greater than just building a building, that this city and this region and Saints fans everywhere really needed to have something to rally around. After a year of hard, hard work, people who were rebuilding their homes and their businesses really needed a place to rally and to express joy and that is what we found. I’m glad to have been able to have played a small part in making all of this happen.”
While most of the more than hour-long new conference featured Payton and the players reminiscing about the 2006 season and the Super Bowl title season three years later, the role Blanco played in making those seasons and others possible wasn’t overlooked.
“Without Mrs. Blanco taking the initiative to ensure that we were able to have our stadium redone and put back together,” Bush said, “we wouldn’t have been able to go back in there and do the work that we did that year.”
Blanco was accompanied by her husband Raymond, two of their five surviving children and three of their grandchildren.
“This is the highlight of my life,” Blanco said. “This is the last thing I ever would have imagined. Think about that — for an average person like me just minding my own business and getting a call saying I’ll be in the Saints Hall of Fame.
“I was shocked really and deeply honored. I’m so proud to feel I’m a family member of the Saints now.”