What are front-row seats for a Saints practice worth?
For Fred McMullen, of Covington, and his daughter, Alexa, it meant being in line at Mandeville High’s Sid Theriot Stadium at 3:30 p.m. Wednesday — 3½ hours before the team took the field and 90 minutes before the gates opened — to make sure they would have their choice of where to watch the team go through a two-hour workout in the Saints’ first visit to the north shore.
“We knew we’d better get here early, because there was going to be a line,” McMullen said. “Maybe sitting here we can get some autographs.”
McMullen was right about the line.
By 5 p.m., there were several hundred people waiting to go through three security gates. An hour later, both the home and visitor stands were packed with several hundred more standing around the field.
The Mandeville Police Department had prepared for at least 5,000 people to show up, and that appeared to be the case.
That the Saints, making their first local practice appearance away from their Metairie facility since 2003, didn’t show up until 6:45 p.m. didn’t seem to matter.
Many of those in the stands — and especially those in the Saints Experience area — turned to cheer and wave at their favorites, turning up the volume even more when they ran onto the field.
“We’re not tired at all,” said Regina Davidson, of Abita Springs, who along with her friend Dorothy Fields, of Franklinton, showed up early as well. “Having the team practice close to home is pretty cool. They ought to do it a couple of times every year.”
- David and Sandy Kimball, of Lake Charles, who made the three-hour drive just to watch practice, also were early arrivals.
“I thought my feet would be hurting,” Sandy said. “But I’m not feeling a thing. I’d wait three more hours to see them if I had to.”
- With all of the excitement about the Saints being in town, it was easy to forget about the team that calls this stadium home.
The Mandeville Skippers were out in force, having practiced earlier in the day.
“This is really nice,” freshman running back Taron Jones said. “Out of all the schools in Louisiana, they picked ours to come to practice at.”
And if the team should run short of players and need someone to help scrimmage?
“I’ll put my pads on,” senior guard Kyle Boudreaux said. “If they want me to, I’ve got that.”
- Not even a broken right ankle suffered three weeks ago in a motorcycle accident could keep Frankie Myers, of Hammond, from bringing his son Andrew, daughter Elizabeth and Andrew’s friend Thomas Triche.
“It wasn’t so bad,” said Frankie, who waited about 20 minutes in line to get in. “People were offering to let us move up. I just hope I can get Drew Brees or somebody else on the team to sign my cast.”
For Andrew, the trip was an after-school surprise.
“He’s promised he’ll mow the yard every time I ask him,” his father said.
- There are plenty of ties between the Saints and Mandeville.
Several members of the coaching staff live in the area — as does Ed Orgeron, who was a defensive line coach with the team in 2008, and Hokie Gajan, a former player, scout and broadcaster who has lived in Mandeville since he was a rookie in 1981.
“This is amazing, watching these guys and watching the crowd,” said Orgeron, who is taking a break from coaching this season to watch his twin sons, Parker and Cody, compete in football and tennis at Mandeville. “It makes me miss the grind with the guys. And then you look at these fans. No question they were born and raised loving the Saints.”
Gajan was not surprised.
“Most people don’t get an opportunity to go across the lake to see them practice,” he said. “This is a big-time crowd. They tell me there are people here who didn’t even leave school.”
- Calvin Klein (no relation to the underwear mogul), of Covington, had more of a purpose for attending than watching football.
Diagnosed with ALS two years ago and now using a wheelchair, Klein was there to watch his two brothers-in-law, Tony Lemon and Dave Fulton, plus good friend John Bevington take the Ice Bucket Challenge.
“I’m just glad it was 92 today,” Bevington said after being doused. “Actually, it was pretty refreshing,”
Klein, along with his wife, Debbie, is a regular at Saints games, but he said he felt this was even better.
“We have special seating there, but you don’t get to get this close to watch anything like this,” he said. “That’s why this is so special to me. What would really make my night would be to meet one of the players. That would be awesome.”
By the end of practice, Klein and just about everyone else who stuck around had been accommodated.