Fans in New Orleans are obviously thrilled to get back to the business of cheering on the full compliment of Saints players and coaches, as 2,613 of them turned out for the first day of Training Camp practices on Friday.
Anthony Ramirez was the first fan in line, arriving at the Saints Metairie facility just before midnight Thursday from Houston, just to make sure he scored a front row seat.
Fellow fans applauded his loyalty, and the fact that this is how he chose to ring in his 19th birthday:
“Today was so much more than I expected! I’ve only been here since 12 a.m., and I’ve had people bring me a cake. They even played a prank on me! When I blew the candles out, they came right back on, lit back up! People are just showing me the love of the city and such tremendous hospitality. I’m walking by, and they’re all just yelling happy birthday,” says Ramirez, who had plenty of time to get to know his comrades since the gates didn’t open until 8 a.m.
When team owner Tom Benson heard about Ramirez’s story, he decided to reward the birthday boy’s dedication and make sure it was a day Ramirez wouldn’t forget. Benson and his wife Gayle invited Ramirez to watch the morning practice session with them, then meet the players and coaches.
“I’m literally standing here with the owner of my favorite team. I could cry right now — I was crying over there. My voice is shaking. I don’t know what to say — except ‘Can I have a hug please?’ ” Ramirez asked the Bensons, who immediately obliged.
Benson says Saints fans are the best in the world: “There’s so much enthusiasm out here. A lot of great players, too. We’re going to have a good season. It’s just wonderful,” says Benson.
Thursday, head coach Sean Payton said his relationship with Benson has only gotten stronger over the years and through the infamous Bounty scandal. Thanks to Benson’s support of the team and of him personally, Payton described himself as having the best job in football.
Friday, Benson responded with a ringing endorsement of the man whom he decided to make the highest-paid coach in the NFL.
“He had a tough year, and he knew it wasn’t exactly easy for me. I had a lot of pressure, you know. But he’s one hell of a coach and one hell of a good man, too. He’s going to be here a long time and, we’re going to have a lot of winning seasons,” predicted Benson.