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New Orleans Saints, Pelicans Owner Tom Benson Dies at the Age of 90

Alec Nathan@@AlecBNathanFeatured ColumnistMarch 15, 2018

NEW ORLEANS, LA - JANUARY 07: Tom Benson owner of the New Orleans Saints reacts before the NFC Wild Card playoff game against the Carolina Panthers at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on January 7, 2018 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  (Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images)
Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

New Orleans Saints and New Orleans Pelicans owner Tom Benson died Thursday at the age of 90, the Saints announced

Benson was hospitalized with the flu at Ochsner Medical Center in Jefferson, Louisiana, Feb. 16. 

Benson purchased the Saints in 1985, and the franchise reached new heights under his guidance. 

During his 32 seasons as principal owner, the Saints went 271-256 while clinching six division titles. The peak of Benson's tenure came in 2009 when the club went 13-3 and defeated the Indianapolis Colts in Super Bowl 44. 

The franchise was able to capture its first Vince Lombardi Trophy after Benson made significant changes prior to the 2006 campaign. The first was hiring Sean Payton as the team's head coach, and the second was signing Drew Brees as his starting quarterback. 

With those two on board, the Saints made big strides and helped stabilize a franchise that had been put in a precarious position after Hurricane Katrina forced them to play home games in San Antonio, Texas, and Baton Rouge, Louisiana, in 2005. 

"When we had to leave town (after Hurricane Katrina in 2005) and everybody was concerned about what was going to happen to New Orleans, getting to come back brought us together," Benson said, according to the Advocate. "We were all so happy to be back we couldn’t believe it.

"I think people realized how much they would have missed the Saints, and it made us realize how important the Saints were to New Orleans and the region."

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell lauded Benson's commitment to the city in a statement on Thursday. 

"He purchased a team that had never had a winning season; by the third year of his ownership, the Saints were in the playoffs," Goodell said, according to NFL Network's James Palmer. "Tom kept the Saints together through the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina, and his decision to bring the team back to New Orleans gave the entire region hope and confidence that they would recover." 

Benson later purchased the Big Easy's NBA franchise in 2012 and rebranded them as the Pelicans following 11 years as the Hornets. 

The Pelicans' lone postseason appearance came in the spring of 2015 when they lost in the first round to the Golden State Warriors. 

"The NBA family mourns the loss of New Orleans Pelicans owner Tom Benson," NBA commissioner Adam Silver said in a statement. "Big-hearted and gracious, Tom topped off a distinguished business and sports career by acquiring the Pelicans in 2012. During his tenure, he hosted two highly-successful All-Star Games, rebranded the franchise and installed a first-class organization. He was a dear friend to me and so many others in the sports world, and the loss of his authentic and unique presence will leave an enormous void."  

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