Texans equipment director recalls 2005 season with Saints

It was Week 3 of the 2005 preseason. The Saints were playing the Baltimore Ravens in a Saturday game at the Superdome, just days before Hurricane Katrina landed its destruction.

"I remember at halftime, there were whispers going around that a storm was approaching," Texans director of equipment services Mike Parson said. "We knew we were going to go somewhere, we just didn't know where at the time."

Ten years later, Parson recalls the day like it was yesterday.

Back then, he was just a 26-year-old equipment intern working for the New Orleans Saints. He'd been a training camp intern for the team while in college. Parson had just accepted a job as head equipment manager at the University of New Orleans, but still helped the Saints on game days.

Parson had no idea how much more he'd be working with them that 2005 season.

"As soon as the game was over, we were packing up everything," Parson said. "You never knew the magnitude of the storm. You just knew something was coming. We packed up for the fourth preseason game against Oakland because we knew we had to go there."
The Saints equipment staff stayed up all night getting ready for the Oakland trip and preparing for practice the next week. They still didn't know where that would be, so they packed up a truck with home equipment and sent it to Mississippi.

"In case something happened," Parson recalls.

The University of New Orleans athletic teams all evacuated to different schools and location. Parson couldn't go with everybody, but the Saints wanted him to help the team. He got permission from the university and went full-time with the Saints that season.

The team was scheduled to leave on an evening flight, but decided to fly out earlier because of imminent bad weather. The Saints practice facility in Metairie, Louisiana, is a quick ten-minute drive to the airport.

Not that day.

"It was like gridlock," Parson said. "It was like everybody was trying to get out. We had a police escort and I think it took us over an hour to get to the airport."

The Saints evacuated to San Jose State University, where they would practice for the week leading up to their preseason game against Oakland. They landed and Parson got to work, immediately setting up the team and locker rooms. After checking in at their hotel in San Jose, Parson and the team finally saw the devastating effects Hurricane Katrina had left in its wake.

"I remember we were all glued to CNN just watching, not understanding – we were so far away - what type of damage it would inflict," Parson said. "You see all these images of the Superdome, you know the roof and all that. You see all those people on the concourse level, and it just hits you. We don't know when we are going to go back, if we are going to go back."

The team didn't return to the Superdome but the outpouring of support from communities was overwhelming. The Saints opened their 2005 season against the Giants in New York, instead of at home. For the rest of the year, the Saints would call San Antonio home. Games would be split between the Alamodome and LSU University in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

While the Superdome was under construction, they were constantly on the move.

"The Alamodome was booked for certain events like home and garden shows that we would have to pack up and go to a baseball stadium in San Antonio," Parson said. "For about five weeks out of the season, we operated out of a pressbox. That's where the training room was. That's where we were. There were batting cages where we had storage."

After their nomadic season, Parson and the Saints equipment staff was awarded the Whitey Zimmerman Memorial Award, given nationally to the NFL equipment staff that exceeds the usual demands of the position with excellent service.

"There's an athletic equipment staff, video staff, weight room staff when you move a team," Parson said. "It's a lot of work on us but we try to do it to try and make it as seamless as possible so that the players and coaches can focus on their jobs, but it was different because you've got unspeakable tragedy happening back home."

Parson is in his first season as director of equipment services for the Texans, after serving seven years as equipment assistant for the team. Newly promoted, it's fitting that his first road game would be in the Superdome on the tenth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.

He still gets emotional when he thinks about it.

"I remember, people wanted to give up on that city," Parson said. "The NFL and (ex-NFL commissioner) Paul Tagliabue would not and that team was integral in the rebirth of that city. People from New Orleans are resilient people, I tell you."

The Texans kickoff their nationally televised game against the Saints on Sunday at 3 p.m. CT on FOX.

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