Tom Benson Memorialized With New Orleans-Style Flair
Late Saints and Pelicans Owner TOM BENSON was "memorialized during a formal Catholic Mass at St. Louis Cathedral" on Friday to a "standing-room-only crowd of 1,000," according to Jeff Duncan of the New Orleans TIMES-PICAYUNE. At times, the invitation-only ceremony "more closely resembled a Sunday tailgate outside the Superdome than a funeral service." Entrepreneurs "hawked Benson T-shirts." Many in the crowd "wore Saints jerseys and held signs pledging their allegiance to Benson and the team." Pro Football HOF President & CEO DAVID BAKER said, "What a celebration" (New Orleans TIMES-PICAYUNE, 3/24). ESPN.com's Mike Triplett noted Benson "went out in classic New Orleans style" in front of "loved ones and dignitaries" such as NFL Commissioner ROGER GOODELL and NBA Commissioner ADAM SILVER. The ceremony was "immediately followed by a jazz funeral procession through the French Quarter in front of thousands of onlookers" (ESPN.com, 3/23). Former NFL Commissioner PAUL TAGLIABUE said that he "never experienced anything like the second line parade to honor Benson." Tagliabue: "It was incredible" (New Orleans TIMES-PICAYUNE, 3/24). Former NBA Commissioner DAVID STERN said Benson was "very tough but very good-natured at the same time" (New Orleans ADVOCATE, 3/24).
INSIDERS' PERSPECTIVE: The TIMES-PICAYUNE's Duncan notedf Benson had a "small, loyal support group, led by his wife," GAYLE, and the Saints' team of longtime execs that includes Senior VP/Communications GREG BENSEL, President DENNIS LAUSCHA, COO BEN HALES, Exec VP & GM MICKEY LOOMIS, Dir of Administration JAY ROMIG and Senior VP/Sales MIKE STANFIELD. Together, this small group "had more than 100 years of tenure with Benson," and next to Gayle, they "knew him better and cared for him more than anyone." The Benson they knew "was different than the imposing, at times, contentious man the public saw." Behind the scenes, he "was caring, inclusive, family-minded and eternally optimistic, they say." Lauscha said, "He ate in the cafeteria every single day with the staff. He had a really good grasp of being one organization, that the football side had to talk to the business side of the organization. We were all one team. That was important to him." Bensel said, "He was a brutally tough son of a bitch, and I mean that as a compliment." Some of the "best stories were about Benson's innate attention to detail and otherwordly observational skills, how he seemingly had a sixth sense for cars parked in the wrong space in the employee lot or missing staffers at lunchtime." Bensel: "He was like a father to me. I revered the ground he walked on." Lauscha said, "He was a mentor, a friend, a father, a patriarch. He meant everything to me. I'm forever grateful to him" (New Orleans TIMES-PICAYUNE, 3/24).