The team began a revival under Mr. Benson, who hired the seasoned football men Jim Mora as head coach and Jim Finks as general manager. They reached the playoffs four times in the late 1980s and early 1990s, though they lost each time in a wild-card game.
Then came Hurricane Katrina in 2005, devastating New Orleans and bringing extensive damage to the Superdome, which was converted to a shelter for thousands of people who were displaced.
Mr. Benson had already been unhappy over the Saints’ financial situation in a relatively small-market N.F.L. city that had few major corporations for sponsorships. Then Hurricane Katrina forced the Saints to move their home games out of New Orleans — they played in Baton Rouge, La.; in San Antonio; and at Giants Stadium in New Jersey. With the future of the city itself uncertain, Mr. Benson considered moving the team permanently to San Antonio, an idea that was not embraced.
And so he became a villain. But he was back in the fans’ favor when he ultimately agreed to remain in town, gaining a favorable deal with the state of Louisiana to continue playing at the Superdome, which later underwent a substantial renovation at taxpayer…