For the last 12 years, Mike Triplett has chronicled the ups and downs of the New Orleans Saints franchise. First as a reporter and columnist for the New Orleans Times-Picayune and NOLA.com, and since 2013 as ESPN NFL Nation’s Saints reporter.
Triplett was in New Orleans in August 2005 when Hurricane Katrina tore through portions of the city and forced the team to seek temporary shelter in San Antonio for one season. He was also there in 2009 when the team won a franchise-record 13 games en route to a championship in Super Bowl XLIV.
Triplett was in the press box on Sept. 25, 2006, as the Saints made their triumphant return to the Superdome – the third regular-season Monday Night Football telecast on ESPN.
To commemorate the 10th anniversary of the Superdome reopening post-Katrina, Triplett authored, for ESPN.com, an oral history of the Saints’ 23-3 victory over the conference rival Atlanta Falcons. He discusses his story and his memories of that game with Front Row.
What are some of the challenges you faced in writing this oral history?
The only challenge was tracking down everyone I could think of. Unfortunately, I couldn’t track down anyone from U2 and a couple of others on my wish list. But for the most part, everyone was eager to share their stories – even [former Falcons head] coach Jim Mora and punter Michael Koenen from the losing side of things. They had terrific perspective on being part of that special moment for New Orleans.
I also loved catching up with [Saints cornerback] Curtis Deloatch, who scored the touchdown after Steve Gleason’s blocked punt and is proud to forever be the answer to that trivia question. He also reminded me that he wasn’t even supposed to be on the field for that play. Details like that added to this great story.
What are the most memorable reflections of that game from your interview subjects?
Quarterback Drew Brees’ animated, detailed recounting of his “nightmare” drive to the stadium that night was so fantastic that we decided to pull it out and make it a separate story. He was stuck in traffic for more than an hour, then couldn’t fit his car in the parking garage when he finally got there.
Mora was also terrific. Not only did he have a great perspective on the night, but he was really funny about it, too. His line about knowing they were in for it when he could hear U2 and Green Day singing, “The Saints are Coming” was great.
What was your experience of Hurricane Katrina?
That was my first year covering the Saints after I had spent the previous two years covering LSU for The Times-Picayune. And my wife and I had just moved into the city a few months before the storm hit. We lost a lot of possessions in the house we were renting, but we were lucky to have insurance. We also evacuated in plenty of time, so we consider ourselves lucky. The hardest part was that I spent the rest of that season in San Antonio covering the team – a nomadic experience for myself as well as the team I was covering, especially not knowing if they would ever come back for good.
ESPN had an extensive presence in New Orleans for the game. U2 was there, as was former President George H.W. Bush. As a reporter covering a regular-season NFL game, what do you remember of the excitement in the city for that game?
It felt like a Super Bowl week, and ESPN did such a great job treating it like the big event that it was. I just talked with Tony Kornheiser for this story, and he correctly pointed out that he saw the downtrodden parts of the city, too. It wasn’t all positive yet at that point – far from it. It was still a tough time for a lot of people. But like I said, the city seemed very proud and excited to have that showcase, to not only celebrate something but show off their resilience to a national audience.