For the most successful owner in New Orleans Saints history, being the subject of awards presentations and the centerpiece of hall of fame induction ceremonies can become commonplace.
And yet, Saturday’s honor will be special to New Orleans Saints owner/chairman of the board Tom Benson. Because for Benson, there will be few acknowledgements of his contributions more meaningful than to be included in his state’s sports Hall of Fame, a journey and destination that began when he purchased the Saints in 1985.
Benson and seven others will be inducted into the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame on Saturday, June 21 in Natchitoches.
From the Saints’ inception in 1967 through 1984, the franchise never achieved a winning record. Since 1985, New Orleans has logged 12 winning seasons, 10 10-plus win seasons, five division titles, two NFC championship game appearances and a Super Bowl victory – a 31-17 win over Indianapolis in Super Bowl XLIV in Miami on Feb. 7, 2010.
"This is a very nice and prestigious honor,” Benson said. “I am proud to be recognized among these other great individuals for the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame. We strive to field the best teams we can for our fans and in doing so we hope we are representing our city, state and region well.
"It is important that through our teams we are able to bring recognition of the great things we are doing in our state. The Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame is recognized nationally as a great institution and to have my name associated with it is very humbling.”
Benson, who also is owner/chairman of the board of the New Orleans Pelicans, has led the Saints on an especially prosperous run since 2006 – five seasons of 10-plus victories, three division titles, both conference championship game appearances and the Super Bowl victory.
Also to be inducted alongside Benson will be former LSU standout and nine-time Pro Bowler Alan Faneca; former All-Star pitcher Shane Reynolds; former Tulane and NFL standout cornerback Lionel Washington; Baton Rouge-Catholic High cross country and track coach Pete Boudreaux; and Venus Lacy, who led the Louisiana Tech women’s basketball team to the 1988 national title and was a gold medalist as a member of Team USA in 1996.
Posthumously, former Louisiana-Lafayette basketball coach Beryl Shipley and Richard “Moon” Ducote, a legendary Cottonport football player, coach and official, will be inducted.
Benson has seen New Orleans host five Super Bowls during his tenure and the Mercedes-Benz Superdome has been sold out on a season ticket basis since 2006, with a consecutive sellout streak of 81 games.
"Mr. Benson is an owner that wants to win and provides for us the resources to win,” Saints Coach Sean Payton said. “As a head coach, I could not ask for a better owner. He is passionate about his teams and the people that work for him and he is driven to bring championships to his home city of New Orleans.
"He loves the people and the fans in our city and that makes it even more special when we can win for not only him but our fans. He has done more for sports in our city, state and region and this honor for him is very deserving."
Benson also is well-known for his charitable contributions, ranging from contributions to aid in New Orleans’ and the Gulf South’s recovery after Hurricane Katrina, to million-dollar donations made to local universities.
“Few realize how much he does for sports around Louisiana,” Saints and Pelicans President Dennis Lauscha said. “Not only does he financially support youth, high school and collegiate programs around the state, it is not uncommon to see him attending a youth, high school or collegiate game.
"And when he is not attending one of those games, he may be at the Fair Grounds or a Sugar Bowl event. He truly understands and appreciates how important sports and the industry of sports are to our state and local communities. He is the 'Sportsman' in 'Sportsman's Paradise.’“
And now, he’s a Hall of Famer in the Sportsman’s Paradise.
“‘Tough times don't last, but tough people do.’ This was his mantra,” said Saints owner/vice chairman of the board Rita Benson LeBlanc, Benson’s granddaughter. “We gave him a crystal plaque with these words etched on it.
“Today, while everyone is excited and proud of both teams in our city, he didn't change, he kept working. I'm relieved that they love him and give him the credit he deserves after a lifetime of hard work.”