In the same stadium where a blown call last season likely cost the New Orleans Saints a Super Bowl berth, team owner Gayle Benson couldn't resist making a pointed remark or two about the "terrible no call" as Loyola University's commencement speaker Saturday morning.
In her address to 780 graduates inside the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, Benson spoke of failure being a part of life and business, citing some "lean times where things didn't go my way."
"Similarly we lost games we should not or there are times we get beat because the other team simply played better," she said. "We even lose games when officials blew the most obvious of calls. Bouncing back from those failures especially when caused by forces, or officials, beyond your control, can be tough."
Near the end of the Rams-Saints NFC Championship game, Los Angeles defensive back Nickell Robey-Coleman interfered wide receiver Tommylee Lewis, but the officials didn't call a penalty. The no-call, which the NFL quickly admitted to after the game, drew the ire of Saints fans for weeks, leading to fans organizing "boycott" parties, second lines and other activities to distract them from the Super Bowl.
Benson pointed to that "sense of humor" from fans as one aspect that makes New Orleans special.
"In all seriousness, had this happened in another city, it is likely there would have been riots in the streets," she said, referring to the no call as "obviously terrible." "As bitterly disappointed as our fans were, our response was the opposite. Rather than riot, our protest turned into another cause for parties."
The chuckles after Benson's no-call comments gave way to her matter-of-fact assessment of the other professional sports franchise she owns, the New Orleans Pelicans.
Benson called star forward Anthony Davis' mid-season trade request "disappointing," and added that the team's losing season was "frustrating for us all."
Big institutions don’t often change easily — even when the old way of doing things isn’t working out.
"For whatever reason, we have not created a culture that fosters a consistently winning franchise," she said. "The way we have been operating has not worked, and we have not adapted to the realities of today’s NBA."
The Pelicans have since overhauled their front office by hiring David Griffin as executive vice president of basketball operations and firing general manager Dell Demps.
Griffin won't answer to Saints executive Mickey Loomis, instead receiving a direct line to Benson and removing one of the strangest ownership structures in the league.
The Saints hold its rookie minicamp this weekend. Organized team activities began May 21 and conclude June 6.