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You'll now receive the top For The Win stories each day directly in your inbox. Nate Scott August 28, 8: It had been months since she and Doug Thornton, then the general manager of the Superdome, had spent five days trapped in the arena with 30, evacuees after Hurricane Katrina. Denise still had nightmares about her time in the Dome, but she had channeled her anger, fear and frustration from those five days into a new purpose. She had founded Beacon of Hope, a resource center where locals could come and find information, borrow tools, and work together to get people back in their homes.

He was in Baton Rouge, at the makeshift SMG offices, working countless hours to get the Superdome back up and running. While houses still sat destroyed, their innards spilling out into the street? It drove a wedge between the Thorntons.

They had two very different ideas about how to rebuild New Orleans. And it was tearing them apart. Beacon of Hope had an inauspicious start. There was no grand vision, no marketing consultants hired to plan a big gala opening. When the Thorntons were trying to decide whether or not to move back to their home in the Lakewood South community of New Orleans, a home that had taken on seven feet of water in the flooding after Hurricane Katrina, they had questions.

The biggest one was: Would anyone else come back? Homes are not homes without the communities surrounding them. So they reached out. They saw people in the street. Those neighbors were thinking the same thing the Thorntons were: Is anyone else going to come back? Thornton realized she needed to get in touch with her neighbors, to form some sort of plan. No one around them did. So she got to work tracking down communication companies, reaching out to anyone, trying to get some form of dialogue going.

Finally, she went to an office and found a manager. She grabbed him and sat him down. These are potential customers for you. This is a good place for you to restart up. When you start repairing all of this underground and overhead cable lines, where do you want to go first? Somehow, the manager agreed. He got a truck out there to run a line from the nearby rail tracks. They just had it run down the sidewalk, out in the open. But the neighborhood had internet, and that was a start.

Equipped with connectivity, Denise Thornton ran to Office Depot, the only one open in the area, and got a router and a computer and a coffee pot. New Orleans was still raw and, in many places, destroyed. No one really knew what was going on. So Denise started compiling her own information. She started printing out lists of trustworthy contractors, one that her neighbors could come and check out.

After a few days, Denise realized this could be something. A place for people to come and find information, to connect with neighbors and make promises to come back. It would live in their gutted-out first floor, the desks next to walls stripped down to their studs.

She decided to name it Beacon of Hope, and held a press conference to announce its opening. It stood like an oasis in the middle of sheer, complete destruction. There was trash on the street. There was gutted contents on the curb of every house. Except my house was completely normal from the outside. Slowly but surely, the newly dubbed Beacon of Hope became the center of the Lakewood South rebuilding process.

People needed tools to work on their homes, so Denise opened up a tool lending library in what used to be the first floor of their home. People could come in, check out a tool, and bring it back. Much has been written about the work Doug Thornton and the management team at SMG — the group that operates the Superdome on behalf of Louisiana — did to bring the Superdome back.

A million things had to happen, in order, for the Saints to return for that memorable first game back against the Falcons a year after the storm hit. First, Governor Kathleen Blanco had to make the building a priority, which she did. Governor Blanco had to expedite the bidding process to allow for SMG to hire contractors fast enough to get the work done, which she did. The plan had originally been for the Superdome to be rebuilt over the course of three years, but NFL concerns that Saints owner Tom Benson would move the team caused Commissioner Paul Tagliabue to ask Thornton and the SMG team to speed up the process.

They would need to open up for the Saints first home game on September 25, , just over a year after the storm had reduced the building to a shell.

The Saints stayed in New Orleans. Steve Gleason blocked that punt in the first game back, and became a local hero. In , the Saints won the Super Bowl. It would be a long time before Denise Thornton understood why her husband did what he did.

It was that building. It was the Superdome, the place where they went through hell. You need money and you need to get some publicity. You got to go back. Soledad will be there. They struck a deal — Denise would do the interview at the Superdome, but they would do it on a bench outside. You got to face your fears. Denise finally agreed, and went in the building for the first time.

It had been renovated, and was empty and quiet. She could handle it. The smell of the place was gone. The tension in the air, the evil and violence, was gone.

She made it through the interview. Confronted by the large crowds and the massive amount of noise, all the memories came rushing back. Denise started to have a panic attack and left before the game even began.

I literally would just lose my breath and have to reach a paper bag and a mint. Just the sound of a helicopter. It would be years before Denise would get over the panic attacks.

And while her week in the arena had been a hell on earth, one that still haunts her to this day, it had inspired her. She had created Beacon of Hope. I did my best.

But I was the kind of the person who wrote the check. I depended on somebody else to find the cure for cancer and feed the homeless and do those sort of things. It galvanized the entire city that first game. Where do you start? The storm took 1, lives across the Gulf Coast not nearly enough is written about what the storm did to the coast of Mississippi and Alabama. It destroyed large swaths of the city of New Orleans, leaving entire neighborhoods — the historical Ninth Ward, the affluent Lakeview and burgeoning New Orleans East — washed away.

Doug and Denise Thornton had two very different ideas about how to rebuild the city. Doug worked to rebuild one massive symbol, an arena that served as the home for the pride of the city, the Saints. Denise worked to empower neighborhoods to come together and rebuild their lives, one home at a time.

I had nothing to go with me to move. Everything was gone including my grocer, my laundry guy, my neighbor who I saw everyday walking the dog. That community is what I longed for. This is Part 2 of the story. Part 1 is here. Baker Mayfield took a shot at Longhorns before Oklahoma game: Breaking down the 3 best bets of the NFL's Week 5 slate.

We polled experts from FOX Sports …. Puig was thrown out by several steps, so he seized the opportunity for a tender moment with an old friend. Please enter an email address. Doug and Denise Thornton had very different ideas about how to rebuild New Orleans, and it nearly tore them apart.

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How one couple’s desire to rebuild New Orleans nearly tore them apart | For The Win

I thought so much of him. Peter Paul Finney was born Oct. Between his graduation from Jesuit, where he was editor of the Blue Jay, and his freshman year at Loyola, he embarked on his sportswriting career with the New Orleans States. Working as the lead columnist for all three publications, Finney turned out an estimated 15, columns and 12 million words touching on local, national and world events and personalities. Although he had numerous opportunities to leave New Orleans for more lucrative opportunities, he never did, a decision longtime Newark Star-Ledger columnist and close friend Jerry Izenberg said was both the right one and fortunate for his home town.

He was the journalistic voice of New Orleans. But in our post-Katrina world, faith is a message which should be embraced by Tom Benson immediately, not next week, not next month and definitely not next year. Faith that New Orleans will recover and become a living symbol of what faith can accomplish. Over the years, Finney received a host of honors, including being named Louisiana Sportswriter of the Year 17 times.

He was elected to the U. Along with Peter Jr. Peter Finney — Hall of Fame firefly-wp T That covers it all. She takes one of her dog's toys, a stuffed warthog chewed all out of shape, and sticks it behind his head. At practice one day late last season, after he'd been quiet for a while, he suddenly said something. He was standing around with his coaches. His face suggests a perpetual case of the mumps, and it seemed particularly swollen this day.

Everybody looked at him. He couldn't be serious, they thought, but nobody saw him smiling. For years he'd been an unofficial ambassador for the word, introducing it in conversation at virtually every opportunity, showing his dexterity by using it as a noun, as a verb and as an adjective.

They figured that in a few weeks he'd be broke, looking to moonlight, saying novenas to whichever patron saint handles insolvency. How could he just not say the word anymore? What about all those years of practice? So now here he is, eight months later. It's June, the start of yet another minicamp and of his second season as coach of the New Orleans Saints.

Ditka hasn't uttered the word since vowing not to. He has called a team meeting, and the players, 80 in all, are expecting a Lombardi-type rant. Ditka loves Lombardi, and his speeches tend to be heart thumpers with wild, didactic flourishes that leave you spinning. His philosophy seems to be, Why simply stir a guy's emotions when you can puree them? Why bore him with X's and O's when you can raise goose bumps on his flesh and move him to hot, bitter tears?

Ditka stands in front of the players, his face scorched from too many hours in the Louisiana sun, his body lean from a high-protein diet. It might slip out every now and then, but I don't want to hear it. The players sit as if mesmerized. Can they be hearing right? Only last season he shouted the word at one of them during a game.

The player, linebacker Brian Jones, dared to ask Ditka to leave a teammate in the game after Ditka had ordered him out. Ancient history, all of it. You won't catch Ditka doing that again. He says, "Now when you feel like saying it He is 58, "past midfield and going downhill," as he puts it. Other men his age pull out calendars and cross off the days till retirement. They experiment with Viagra and second-generation VW Beetles. But what does Ditka do? Ditka launches a self-improvement campaign.

No cussing, no booze, no negative thoughts, no unhealthy foods, no temper tantrums, no missing Mass, no unnecessary gabbing to the press, no more than three cigars a day, no gambling.

Well, maybe some gambling, but not as much as in the old days. Over the past 10 years he's had a heart attack and three hip surgeries. Both his hips are artificial, and that explains his troubled gait. He walks like an egret trying to navigate a carpet of marsh weeds.

But the hips and the heart haven't really slowed him down. Ditka seems more determined than ever, his pace as busy and ambitious, his will as stupefyingly strong. Assigned to make a champion of the only current NFL club never to have won a playoff game, Ditka figures he first needs to change some attitudes.

They say we'll never win--the voodoo curse and all this crap. I disagree with that. Before you can win, you have to believe you're worthy. So this off-season Ditka's been stumping the state of Louisiana like a bullhorn politician hustling votes.

He gives a speech nearly every day of the week: Ditka ignores the questions. He looks at the tip of the Cuban cigar he's been chewing. Why isn't he at home with his wife, Diana, snoozing in his chair? Or swimming laps in his pool? Or banging some deep ones out on the driving range? She's referring to his meltdown last November after an embarrassing loss to the Atlanta Falcons. He said he was "probably the wrong guy for this job," and team management would be "better off getting somebody else.

Ditka gives her remarks longer consideration than they deserve. Other than promoting a general attitude overhaul, Ditka's message at these events is never entirely clear. He seems to be espousing a return to old-fashioned values. He wishes people would stop trying to be so politically correct.

He wishes they would show some self-respect. Why don't they observe a stricter code of behavior? Why don't they get a haircut or use a bar of soap? Ditka, a former altar boy, never fails to mention Jesus, occasionally referring to him as "a guy.

Once content simply to coach, Ditka now has a greater calling. We talk about this a lot: Mike has a forum here in New Orleans, and he uses it to evangelize. This is all decoration. But lately I've gotten back the focus of what really matters. Maybe, what it comes down to, I just want to be a good example for people. Maybe I want to be the person I ought to be for a change. In pursuing this end, Ditka cuts himself no slack. He's the first on his staff to report to work in the morning and often the last to leave at night.

His day begins at about 5: The dew hasn't even had time to burn off when, soaked with sweat, his generous mop of hair pasted flat against his head, he waddles into the weight room and pumps iron until his muscles twitch. Saints coaches and staff members, just filing in to start the day's work, watch with equal measures of awe and horror, none but the brave daring to ask what Ditka means to prove.

Abramowicz has abandoned any hope of getting Ditka to ride a stationary bike. You have to sweat. You have to be outside, and it has to be miserable, and you have to suffer. You can see the tremendous will of the man. Asked for an honest self-appraisal, Ditka has given the same answer for years. But that response barely covers it. Ditka, to lean on a cliche, is trying to get his house in order. And he isn't satisfied to focus only on himself. He wants to get everybody else's house in order, too, and that includes more than just his players and coaching staff.

A tattooed woman recently asked him what he thought of her body art. You came into this world without those tattoos, and your body was a gift from God. Don't go out with them! Jude's altars in New Orleans. You know who St. Then there's his new city. Each year its beauty and roguish charm enchant millions of visitors. Ditka doesn't get it. He thinks the place could use a good scrubbing.

Filthy, that's what it is. Not that he bothers to spend much time in New Orleans. Ditka is a suburbanite who, on a typical day, glimpses the city only briefly when traveling a strip of elevated roadway to and from work each day in Metairie, La.

When he took the Saints job after the season, everybody said he was a great match for the city. A blue-collar guy and a blue-collar town. Someone who grew up in the shadow of the Pennsylvania steel mills, building a new life in the shadow of Louisiana's petrochemical plants. New Orleans is famous for letting the good times roll.

Wasn't it Diana who said that the first time she laid eyes on Mike, in Dallas, half a dozen men were carrying him out of a bar? Who better to coach the Saints! But Ditka has shown no interest in exploring the old city. Rather than live in a renovated year-old town house in the French Quarter or a leafy estate in the Garden District, where local celebrities such as Anne Rice and Archie Manning live, the Ditkas settled next to a golf course in the gated community of English Turn.

A uniformed guard takes your name before letting you enter the walled enclave. Then you pass along streets so new that they appear eerily phosphorescent. You could be in suburban Dallas or Washington, D. Here the wealth of the residents is matched only by their desire to be left alone. Ditka's house, situated near the 9th hole, has 5, square feet of living area. That's small compared with the 8,square-foot thing he and Diana owned in the Chicago area. Once the trees have grown and a century of hurricanes has given English Turn a comfortable, lived-in look, the community might attract tourists of its own, but it still won't be the Vieux Carre.

Which is fine by Ditka, who seems to have no sentimental attachment to New Orleans despite the fact that he has enjoyed some of the most gratifying moments of his football career there.

Then, in '86, he coached the Chicago Bears to a win over the New England Patriots in the same arena. Ditka says he has cruised Bourbon Street only once in his life. As he recalls, he cut short the adventure because he couldn't stand the riot of drunks spilling out of nightclubs and strip joints.

Ditka also has visited historic Jackson Square only once, and that was by accident. Recently he and Diana were looking for a church downtown when they got confused and ended up deep in the French Quarter. They walked past street artists and musicians, sightseeing buggies, mimes in whiteface, kids tap dancing on the pavement, fire-eaters, and palmists and tarot readers dressed as if for an I Dream of Jeannie reunion. Ditka saw the teenage runaways who are known locally as gutter punks.

It wasn't even New York. The scene so spooked him that he sensed the presence of evil. People think that's what this city is all about, and it isn't. Why don't they clean it up? If the city has one problem, I mean it, there has to be a code of pride initiated, and the people have to say, 'Hey, we're going to change all this.

Get them off the streets. At any other time in his life Ditka might have bitten his tongue, but he believes he has an obligation now to stand up for what he thinks is right. Get them to do something, then we'll worry about the city. I say, 'Worry about everything. The French Quarter is crowded with renowned restaurants, but Ditka prefers to dine at an unheralded place in Metairie called Impastato's, out near a giant shopping mall and convenient to I and his long drive home.

He usually agrees to eat in town only when he knows there's a parking garage near the restaurant. Although Ditka has lived in the New Orleans area for more than a year now, he hasn't done any shopping in the city. Ditka shakes his head. Will Ditka ever get over it?

Will the city ever get over him? As a tight end for the Bears he was named Rookie of the Year in , and he made five straight Pro Bowls before being traded to the Philadelphia Eagles in '67 and ending his career with the Cowboys in ' Sixteen years later he became the first tight end to be inducted into the Hall of Fame.

As coach of the Bears for 11 years, beginning in '82, he averaged more than nine wins per season and won six NFC Central titles.

Listen to Sports WODT New Orleans Live for Free! Hear Your home for more local sports talk, only on iHeartRadio. Doug and Denise Thornton had very different ideas about how to rebuild New Orleans, from those five days into a new purpose. Katrina, Longform, New Orleans, Sports. k shares. share. tweet. Orleans Hub Sports. 1, likes · talking about this. Connecting you with community news & local sports.