Giants 27, Saints 10
The vagabond New Orleans Saints may have become the nation's adopted NFL team, but Giants Stadium was as inhospitable of a home for them as they'd anticipated when they were miffed by Commissioner Paul Tagliabue's decision to move their first scheduled home game of the season to their opponent's stadium. The New York Giants raced to an early lead and never looked back, easing to a 27-10 triumph over the Saints here Monday night.
An announced crowd of 68,031 in the 80,242-seat stadium cheered the Saints politely when they took the field at the beginning of the evening, then quickly reverted to cheering raucously for the Giants about the time the Saints fumbled on the game's opening kickoff. The Giants got two touchdowns by tailback Tiki Barber, one on a pass from quarterback Eli Manning and one on a run, to build a 21-7 lead in the second quarter.
They coasted from there to improve their record to 2-0 and grab a share of the lead in the NFC East. The error-prone Saints fell to 1-1 after their stirring road victory at Carolina to open the season.
"Traveling out here was uncalled for," said Saints quarterback Aaron Brooks, who passed for 375 yards but threw three interceptions and lost a fumble. "Try not to patronize us next time by having us travel out here and tell us it was a home game. But those were the circumstances, and we lost."
Saints Coach Jim Haslett previously had criticized Tagliabue's decision to move the game here, but he and several of his players refused to blame the venue for their six-turnover, 13-penalty performance. Kicker John Carney clanked a 29-yard field goal attempt off the upright.
"The turnovers and the penalties had nothing to do with the crowd, really," Haslett said. "That was all us."
Said wide receiver Joe Horn: "It felt like an away game. The crowd obviously was cheering for their home team. But that's irrelevant. We lost a football game. . . . I felt personally like we fed them on a platter, and they ate. . . . Regardless of where we're living, regardless of Hurricane Katrina, we lost. No excuses."
After the Saints were displaced from New Orleans when the city was ravaged by Hurricane Katrina and floodwaters, Tagliabue moved the game here as part of an effort to use the big New York stage to boost the league's fundraising efforts for hurricane victims in the Gulf Coast region.
The result was an odd mixture of circumstances in which the Saints, the Giants and everyone else involved did their best to balance the competitiveness of a football game with the feeling of unity toward a greater cause that the evening's surrounding events were attempting to foster.
Nearly two hours before the game, Tagliabue stood on the field and spoke amiably to Eddie Compass, the police chief of New Orleans. Moments later, Manning trotted past the two on his way from the field back to the locker room. A Giants fan in the stands yelled encouragement toward Manning, urging him to do what he could in a couple hours to overwhelm the team from Compass's city.
Tagliabue, as he stood on the field before the game, predicted the Saints would have "a great season" and fans nationwide would continue to embrace them. He said any competitive concerns about playing the game in Giants Stadium were meaningless to him.
"The competitive aspects were inconsequential," Tagliabue said, adding that might have been different if the Giants were a divisional opponent of the Saints. "It's not about a football game. It's about the NFL and the Saints making a statement about what they stand for in terms of rebuilding in Louisiana and the Gulf Coast region."
Any complaints by the Giants' rivals about them being given an extra home game were "not on my radar screen [and] will not be on my radar screen," Tagliabue said.
The Saints have based themselves in San Antonio and will split their remaining home games this season between there and Baton Rouge, La.
The game, which originally was scheduled for Sunday at the Superdome, was made part of a nationally televised Monday doubleheader by Tagliabue. Hall of Fame players were rounded up for a telethon, headquartered in Times Square. Former president George H. W. Bush -- who, along with former president Bill Clinton, is leading nationwide fundraising efforts -- was on the field for the pregame coin-toss ceremony.
The NFL, calling the theme of the evening "Recover and Rebuild," arranged for more than 600 hurricane evacuees to attend the game. The Giants and Saints planned to donate about $1 million from the game's gate proceeds to relief efforts. The Giants contributed an additional $400,000, and the NFL Players Association announced a $1 million donation, bringing total donations by the NFL, its teams and its players to around $11 million.
There were plenty of empty seats in the upper deck behind the end zones, but Tagliabue said he was pleased with ticket sales and would have been satisfied with a crowd of 50,000 or more. One end zone was inscribed with the word "Saints," and the Saints wore their black home jerseys and were listed as the home team on the scoreboard.
"We thank the NFL for giving us a home game in New York and raising all the money they did," Saints tailback Deuce McAllister said. "But when it comes down to it, we have to play football."