NEW ORLEANS, La. ― For a little more than the past month, the Saints have been at work preparing for the 2010 season.
Wednesday night, they celebrated 2009 one more time.
The team, including former players and organization employees, received their Super Bowl rings at a ceremony in the Roosevelt Hotel.
For many involved, the ceremony was the first time they had seen the rings.
“We knew they had a great surprise for us,” cornerback Tracy Porter said. “We knew they were getting us rings. We expected them to be nice, but this exceeded expectations.”
New Orleans beat Indianapolis 31-17 in Super Bowl XLIV on Feb. 7, giving them the right to host this last party nearly four and a half months later.
The rings, of which the NFL pays up to $5,000 each for 150 of them, were made by Tiffany & Co., and include dozens of diamonds and several iconic New Orleans buildings.
Designers placed the Superdome and St. Louis Cathedral on the ring along with the first few notes from “When the Saints Go Marching In” on one side. On the opposite side was the Super Bowl 44 logo along with the score of the game.
And on in the inside, designers put the words “Finish strong,” “Smell greatness,” and “Be special.” Also inscribed on the inside were the scores of the Saints’ two playoff victories that put them in the big game.
“It’s pretty incredible,” said quarterback Drew Brees, the game’s MVP. “In fact, I think it’s absolutely perfect because nothing was left out on that ring as far as symbols of our season, things that might not mean anything to somebody who doesn’t know the story but to us, to our team, every little piece of that ring has a meaning and that’s what’s important.”
The rings also have an image of the Saints’ Super Bowl parade, which part owner and executive Rita Benson LeBlanc said was a must for the ring.
“There was an element for us to remind ourselves of the fans and how they said thank you,” she said. “That was just a very unique thing to New Orleans.”
For some, the night was a conclusion of four years and a boatload of risk. Scott Shanle didn’t have to come to New Orleans in 2006. But he did, taking a flier on a team that had nothing to lose and a coach with little experience at the helm.
He never doubted that this night would come.
“From the starting point when we got here in 2006 after the season they had before and everyone thought man, that’s a rebuilding project and Coach Payton is brave to come here,” Shanle said prior to the ceremony. “In 2006 we went to the NFC Championship game. You could just see the foundation set that year. For me to say I’m surprised I’m standing here doing this four years later, I’d be lying. After the way we played in 2006 and the guys we had on this team, I expected this.”
And afterwards? There were no tears in his eyes.
“It was more like a sigh of relief,” he said. “Finally, it closes the chapter to last year. Finally, you have the last piece of the puzzle to close out last year. Now it’s all about moving forward and getting on that journey to do it again.”
At Wednesday’s ceremony were several former players, including tight end Billy Miller, running back Deuce McAllister, kicker John Carney, defensive end Charles Grant, linebacker Scott Fujita and cornerback Mike McKenzie.
Getting the rings proved to be something else besides proof that a goal was attained, Head Coach Sean Payton said.
“It whets your appetite,” he said. “When you achieve something like this, you certainly thirst for more.”