Few franchises in professional sports share a bond with the city in which they play quite like the Saints and New Orleans.
In the city's darkest hour—in the wake of the vicious Hurricane Katrina that left the city a shadow of its former self—a team of 53 men sparked optimism, inspiration and hope.
Homes, buildings and structures were gone, but New Orleans would not fade. The Saints helped remind their city to remember the strength of New Orleans.
The pinnacle of the connection between the team and city was discovered in the team's return to play at the Superdome—the iconic stadium that boasts an electric atmosphere for every event that it hosts.
On Monday night, September 26th, 2006, then-Saints safety Steve Gleason blocked a punt that a teammate would recover for a touchdown.
New Orleans was back.
The six seasons since the team returned to its fabled home arena have been the most successful in the franchise's history, with no year more remarkable than the 2009 season, during which the Saints would capture their first and only Super Bowl victory.
But so much of what has endeared the Saints franchise to not just their city, but to a nation full of supporters of those who persevere, has been clouded by a recent series of leadership missteps that have come to light.
It began with the revelation that 22 to 27 Saints defenders, under the direction of then-defensive coordinator Greg Williams, had orchestrated a bounty system that rewarded vicious acts of intentional violence in an already violent game.
The program was reprehensible enough, but further blackening the Saints' eye was the finding that GM Mickey Loomis failed to cease the operation despite a mandate from team owner Tom Benson.
It turns out Loomis wasn't the only one who failed his owner, as head coach Sean Payton was also found to be aware of the program, and he too whiffed on the opportunity to put a stop to the atrocity Williams was overseeing.
Loomis was subversive, Payton inactive and each has paid the price dearly.
But just when it seemed the Saints had hit rock bottom, a report from Jeff Duncan of the New Orleans Times-Picayune chronicled the recent and stunning lack of visibility from Rita Benson LeBlanc—the granddaughter of owner Tom Benson and part-owner and executive vice president of the team.
As Duncan noted, LeBlanc was not court side while the rest of the Saints' power brokerage watched the New Orleans Hornets (who Benson recently was approved to purchase by the NBA) defeat the Memphis Grizzlies.
Her presence at the team facility has been minimal since the end of the regular season, and her erratic behavior has led her grandfather to reportedly impose what Duncan describes as "some form of unofficial paid administrative leave."
LeBlanc is considered by most to be the next-in-line to assume control of the franchise's operation upon her grandfather's passing, and she was out front in the club's post-Katrina efforts, which has since earned her widespread praise, admiration and attention.
To think, during a time when the franchise needs reliable directors and conductors to repair what has been broken by the public admonishment from its football operation's shortcoming, that LeBlanc would err enough in her behavior to merit a leave of absence is only added troubling news to an offseason full of it in New Orleans.
The story is not close to its culmination for the Saints. Players will soon be reprimanded by Goodell due to their involvement in the bounty program, and it's unclear who may—or may not—be available for the Saints' opening weeks of the season.
Rita Benson LeBlanc and Sean Payton are already on their respective periods of leave. GM Mickey Loomis and interim head coach Joe Vitt will begin their own at the conclusion of the preseason.
In a league where cohesion at the top has proven time and time again as a pillar of success, one must beg the question: what has happened to the leadership of the New Orleans Saints?