Saints Scrimmage In Front Of Big Crowd

It may have only been a glorified New Orleans Saints practice, but for it was well worth the money for several thousand fans who paid to watch it. ``Hey, it's at least a little football,'' said John Thompson, 36, of Kenner. ``Besides, the kids like it. They get to see the stars, get some autographs. It's great.'' About 10,000 fans paid $15 for seats with backs, or $12 for bleachers, to see the players stretch and run drills and a scrimmage with three drives of 12 plays each.

The night included a variety of special events, including skydivers from the U.S. Army's Golden Knights parachute team and an autograph session and fireworks afterward. ``It's really an outing for the kids,'' said Megan Mitchell of Metairie. ``It's cheaper than trying to take them to a game.'' People took advantage of the nearby fields to tailgate, something they can't do at games in the Superdome. ``We tailgate for LSU, we really don't go to Saints games. But this is perfect,'' said Eugene Aucoin of Labadieville, who fed about 24 people after arriving at noon for the 7:30 p.m. event. Most fans showed up hours before the stadium opened, using the time to visit vendors hawking everything from T-shirts to calendars of the Saintsations, the team's dancers. The $15 calendars were $30 if for those who wanted the dancers to autograph their pictures. ``It's worth it,'' said Scott Ward, 15, of Covington. Tommy Hart faced a dilemma. He was one of hundreds buying Saints jerseys, T-shirts, footballs and other gear before the scrimmage. ``I bought Ricky Williams last year, and now it's so out,'' Hart said. ``I wanted a Brooks, but now I'm not sure about him.'' At $45 for a jersey, Hart didn't want to take a chance on a player that might not be with the team more than this year. Since quarterback Aaron Brooks is unhappy with negotiations to renew his contract, Hart was afraid to take a chance on him. ``I'm going with the Kyle Turley shirt,'' he decided. ``He's cool and he'll be around a while.'' The Turley jerseys were the most popular with buyers, one of the clerks said. Turley became something of a folk hero in New Orleans last year after he attacked Jets safety Damien Robinson when Robinson grabbed the face mask of Saints quarterback Aaron Brooks and twisted it. Turley ripped Robinson's helmet off and threw it downfield, then made an obscene gesture. His actions got him tossed out of the game. They also drew a 15-yard penalty that ended the Saints' final chance to tie or win the game. The Saints lost 16-9.

Saturday Turley played to the crowd while the team stretched, urging fans on both sides of the stadium to cheer. The Saints had Sunday off, their first day off since camp opened the 26th. Practices were to resume on Monday and the Saints' first exhibition game was set for Aug. 10 in the Superdome against the Houston Texans.