ATLANTA — Until Tuesday morning, Rita Benson LeBlanc expected her grandfather, Saints owner Tom Benson, would be lobbying for votes from his peers as the NFL prepared to award the 2018 Super Bowl to either New Orleans, Indianapolis or Minneapolis.
But, when officials in charge of New Orleans Super Bowl bid met with media hours ahead of the vote at The Ritz-Carlton Buckhead, Tom Benson had not arrived. Doctors who had recently performed a surgery to repair a torn medial meniscus in the Saints owner’s knee instructed him to stay at home until the last possible moment and to only travel if he felt well; so he obeyed and was waiting for later to decide whether to fly to Atlanta, a team official said.
That meant it was up to his granddaughter, the Saints’ co-owner and vice chairwoman of the board, to attend an 8 a.m. league owners’ breakfast and work the room for votes in favor of New Orleans’ bid for Super Bowl LII.
“It is probably the most important moment of my job — in my life, right now — to bring this home for him,” Benson LeBlanc said about her grandfather before departing for the owners’ breakfast. “There’s nothing more top of mind right now for him — he’s 86, for his legacy.”
The pitch LeBlanc marched off with to the gathering was simple: 2018 will mark 300 years since New Orleans was founded. Since a tricentennial is a unique landmark for most American cities, it will command international attention for New Orleans, and both the Saints and the city want to share that spotlight with the NFL and its championship game.
“International exposure is very important for the NFL,” said LeBlanc, whose organization was founded in 1967. “I couldn’t dream of a (tricentennial) celebration without honoring the NFL.”
In the afternoon, Minnesota, New Orleans and Indianapolis will give their 15-minute bid presentations in that order to the league’s owners in a closed-door meeting. Owners will then get a 5-minute window to address their counterparts around the NFL.
If Tom Benson ultimately doesn’t head to Atlanta, LeBlanc will be responsible for that address. She acknowledged that wasn’t Plan A, but she ensured she was prepared to carry that out, citing her involvement in the day-to-day work of the bid even before New Orleans in October was named a finalist to host Super Bowl LII.
“It’s my job,” said LeBlanc, who anticipates her grandfather will be on the phone throughout the day keeping tabs on the meeting at the Ritz-Carlton if he can’t show up. “I know that it’s my role. At some point, it was going to be my responsibility, so it just depended on when.”
LeBlanc mentioned that it’s been common for principal owners to assign a younger family member to speak at the conclusion of Super Bowl bid presentations.
Saints President Dennis Lauscha expressed his belief Tuesday that LeBlanc was more than ready to put the finishing touches on New Orleans’ Super Bowl bid if necessary.
“She understands how important this event is for the city of New Orleans,” said Lauscha, who planned to help LeBlanc politick for votes Tuesday, too. “Look, she wants to deliver — we all do.
“It’s been an unbelievable effort to put the bid together. We think we have a unique bid. We wish the presentations would start now, and we didn’t have to wait until this afternoon.”
This post has been updated to include more information. Follow Ramon Antonio Vargas on Twitter @RVargasAdvocate.