Larger-than-life tribute to Tom Benson now stands near Champions Square

Bronze Statue of Tom Benson at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome (Source: Nancy Parker)
Bronze Statue of Tom Benson at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome (Source: Nancy Parker)

High noon at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome brought a who's who of New Orleans sports, the city and the state.

"We are gathered here for a most appropriate statement of gratitude and appreciation
and a love for a man who has had  one of the single positive impacts on the psyche of the people of New Orleans and Louisiana," said Tourism leader Mark Romig.

The gathering was to share an honor with Saints Owner Tom Benson.

"Three, two, one - here we go!" Romig said as he and the artist pulled the drape from a 2,500 pound statue.

The bronze statue of Benson stands triumphantly with a Lombard trophy on the landing of the grand staircase leading to Champion Square. Mr. Benson was moved to tears.

"Why this is real nice," he said, choking on his words. "I never did think this would happen. I'm so pleased thank you all very much."

Sculptor Brian Hanlon said the humility of that moment, Benson shedding tears, is something he's never seen.

"I felt the weight on my shoulders as how important he was in the city, and also that he's so recognizable I had to get it right," the East Coast sculptor said.

The statue's  base weighs 10,000 pounds, and Benson's commitment to New Orleans is carved in black granite.

Mayor Mitch Landrieu summed it up.

"You made sure that you were going to plant your flag in the city, never going to leave, and help us believe in ourselves again," Landrieu said.

Coach Sean Payton was moved.

"What he's accomplished as an owner and what he's accomplished for our city is much bigger than a hunk of metal. This tangibly sits here and you have a chance to reflect on the specific points in time when his leadership was crucial," Payton said.

When Benson regained his composure, he smiled at the likeness that will greet fans for years to come.

"I think the statue is beautiful. I can't believe how nice it is, and I had no idea I was that good looking," he said laughing.

The honor means everything to the self-made man who brought joy, hope and good will to the people of New Orleans.
"To have  something like this done for you is unbelievable. You go through life and you don't think anything like this will ever happen. Naturally it caught me right in my heart. Thank you all very much," Benson said.

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