NEW ORLEANS – Reggie Bush spent the Tuesday of his first regular-season game week doing something he has made a habit of since becoming a Saint.
He handed out food to the needy.
Bush, the No. 2 overall pick in April who received $26.3 million in guarantees as part of a six-year contract with the New Orleans Saints, has made an impact in this hurricane-torn city before making an impact on the field.
"He's an inspiration here," Terry Rollins said as she walked around her neighborhood in the residential section of the French Quarter last Wednesday night. "We know he's not going to rebuild the neighborhoods, but he brings some excitement. We need that. We need something. There's so much stress and worry still."
Rollins' sentiment echoes that of many fans in and around New Orleans. Despite the devastation suffered from Hurricane Katrina last August, drafting Bush has fueled unprecedented excitement in the Saints.
New Orleans owner Tom Benson announced last week that the team has sold more than 65,000 season tickets. That leaves the team approximately 3,000 tickets short of a complete sellout for the season.
The Saints' previous mark for season ticket sales was 53,728 in 2003. Much of the sales this year came in the immediate aftermath of drafting Bush, the standout running back who won the Heisman Trophy last season at the University of Southern California.
The excitement is similar to how the city reacted after the Saints hired Mike Ditka as head coach in 1997 and then drafted running back Ricky Williams in 1999. The difference this year is that the local buzz hasn't raised expectations for a team that finished 3-13 last season.
Beyond the ticket sales, Bush has donated his time and money to numerous causes and has his sponsors donating money to help rebuild homes in the city. He recently gave $50,000 to a local high school to keep it running and provided money for a new field at another school.
"I've been blessed in my lifetime to be successful in football and in coming here to the state of Louisiana," Bush told the New Orleans Times-Picayune in reference to his motivation. "I wouldn't' look at it as me jumping into it and getting in a hurry. It's in God's plans. If you have the opportunity to help out in a city with so much need, why not? It's a blessing to be in position to do things like this."
New Orleans remains in shambles more than a year after Katrina. Building after building downtown still has plywood-covered windows and many shops haven't reopened.
The commercial end of Bourbon Street was unusually wide-open for foot traffic on Wednesday night. Many of the palm readers and musicians who were the canvas of the area have moved on. On the residential end of the French Quarter, "for rent" and "for sale" signs dot the neighborhood.
A blue tarp still covers part of the roof at the Ritz-Carlton on Canal Street. The hotel has a sign in front announcing that it will reopen in December. The city's Ninth Ward, infamous for its crime but famous for its strong minority home ownership, is a mess and largely still without power.
Mayor Ray Nagin was re-elected, but is a lightning rod for criticism and has yet to get public opinion focused on one plan for recovery.
It's a dreary picture. On Sundays, however, Bush hopes to change that.
- Reggie Bush
- New Orleans