ATLANTA — Gayle Benson teared up.

As she presented New Orleans’ bid for Super Bowl 2024, a video montage of her late husband Tom Benson played on a screen behind her. One particular clip, which pictured the former Saints owner nearly coming out of his trademark suspenders, served as a reminder why she was here, standing in this meeting room at the Whitley hotel, selling the rest of the NFL owners on why her city — Tom Benson’s city — was the right location for the game.

The bid was successful, coming back with unanimous approval immediately after Saints owner Gayle Benson and president Dennis Lauscha finished giving the proposal. It was an expected result, given that New Orleans was the only city invited to bid on the game.

Gayle Benson knows how important the decision was for the city, which hasn’t hosted a Super Bowl since 2013, the result of going up against locations with new stadiums in recent years.

But on a personal level, it meant something different.

“I was a little upset when I saw his picture because it was so real, because it feels like he’s here,” Gayle Benson said, dabbing her eyes with a tissue. “I know he’s here in a way. It’s just a little sad that he’s not with us.”

Tom Benson’s presence was subtle, but omnipresent throughout the bid. The central theme of it was “Nola 2024/7,” a nod to the possibility of finding entertaining things to do at all hours of the day or night, which was a topic the Greater New Orleans Sports Foundation wanted to make clear to those considering the city.

But look on the lapels of everyone associated with putting forth the bid, and you’ll see a pin featuring the silhouette of Tom Benson doing his famed “Benson Boogie,” with a “2” and a “4” on each side of him.

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There is no question that Gayle Benson is standing on her own as the owner of the Saints and Pelicans.

She was in the war room during the Saints’ draft and oversaw free agency. The Pelicans just made a playoff run, and she will oversee whatever moves the team decides to make this offseason. Her horse, Lone Sailor, just ran in the Preakness and Kentucky Derby. Even in the business realm, Dixie Beer continues to post strong sale numbers, and she’ll soon be launching a wine label.

But coming in and landing a Super Bowl is different. The process changed this year, sure, but it still gives her a certain level of cachet to go into the room, make a presentation and walk out of it with one of the most significant awards the NFL has to offer a city. New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell said the 2013 game generated more than $480 million. That number should be even higher this time given inflation and the league's continued growth.

Gayle Benson, with some help from the Saints and Greater New Orleans Sports Foundation, is responsible for bringing that windfall back to a city that relies upon travel and big events as part of its industry. Further evidence that she has taken the baton and ran with it, traveling quite a distance in the short time since her husband died in March.

And even though she’s standing on her own and proving to be a capable owner, Gayle Benson doesn’t seem concerned about putting a unique stamp on things, or doing anything differently than her husband would have. She’s doing this for him, carrying on the work he had already done and using the conversations she had with her husband along the way to guide her decisions and actions.

After the vote came in, Gayle Benson took a question that was designed to elicit a particular response. The question, which contained a statement about her “arrival as owner,” was begging for her to proclaim how the vote proved she could get things done. She didn’t bite. Instead, she redirected the focus back to where she thought it belonged — likely because that is where her real motives and inspirations exist.

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“The thing I really want to do is continue Tom Benson’s legacy,” Gayle Benson said. “That’s my main goal. I want to keep his memory alive.”

Gayle Benson didn’t have any suspenders to come out of Wednesday. But she still smiled, full and bright, as she announced the news. It was likely a different smile than the one she wore while watching Benson do his dance during the presentation.

But the driving force behind both shows of emotion was the same.


Follow Nick Underhill on Twitter, @nick_underhill.​