Thursday, 22 January 2015 15:52
Benson's removal of grand-daughter Rita not only New Orleans Saints family affair
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rita leblanc-compressedDespite being the mild, low-key guy that I am, I do not often refuse the opportunity to appear on one of the local sports programs. The local TV guys like Doug Mouton (WWL), Rob Masson (WVUE), Fletcher Mackel (WDSU), and their colleagues always give me an opportunity to push whatever book project I am working on in exchange for my thoughts on the issue of the moment. So it was uncharacteristic of me on Wednesday night and Thursday morning to turn down three offers to come in and comment on Tom Benson’s surprising announcement that when he passes on he is leaving the city’s two beloved sports franchises to his wife Gayle.

 

Everybody wants to know why he would do that instead of leaving the teams to blood relatives? The Saints had announced some time ago that the Saints, Pelicans and other business properties would be run by Benson's daughter, Renee, and her children, Ryan LeBlanc and Rita Benson LeBlanc, who has been involved with the team for the past decade. But Benson’s announcement on Wednesday took his daughter and her children out of the equation. In fact, their names and faces were removed from the Saints’ online media guide. The fact that Rita is out does not surprise anyone who has been close to the organization. People I’ve spoken with have questioned her work ethic, her judgment, her personal behavior and her ability to make decisions that could determine the direction of two major sports franchises.

But the question that each one of the TV guys asked was “has this ever happened before in the NFL?” My answer that a similar episode was a part of Saints’ lore raised their eyebrows, either for their short memories or my aging frame of reference. Doesn’t anybody remember Steve Rosenbloom, Saints GM during their lamentable 1-15 season of 1980? Here’s the story:

The owner of the Los Angeles Rams was Carroll Rosenbloom, father of Steve, who had risen to GM. But when Carroll drowned in mysterious circumstances in 1979, his will left ownership of the team to his second wife Georgia. To say that the Rosenbloom children and Georgia did not get along is to say that Bill Belichick doesn’t have a tire pump in his office. Carroll had left his first wife, Steve’s mother, for Georgia, a one-time urologist’s secretary and actress whom he met at a Palm Beach party hosted by Joseph Kennedy.

A few months after Carroll’s death, Georgia fired Steve, who was left six percent of the Rams in his father's will. Still liked and respected around the NFL, Steve Rosenbloom was quickly hired by Saints owner John Mecom following the '79 season in which the Rams went to the Super Bowl. Rosenbloom had a short tour of duty with the Saints. When the team finished 1-15 in 1980, the quirky Mecom fired Rosenbloom and brought in Bum Phillips to run the football operation.

Steve remained in the New Orleans area, and when Jim Finks became President and GM in 1986, he brought Steve to the Saints’ office one day for lunch. Steve remained in the Covington area where he concentrated on investments and real estate, but he obviously was still simmering from his treatment by his stepmother. In a 1994 interview with the Baltimore Sun, he vented his anger at Georgia and the “new” type of NFL owner. "I don't miss the game because of what it has become," he said at the time. "We used to have a great group of owners who were football-oriented. Today, they have used car dealers who've been turning back odometers for 20 years.”

Hmmmm! Maybe the TV guys should try and find Steve Rosenbloom. Now that’s an interview I’d like to hear!

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