CINCINNATI // Drew Brees called the New Orleans Saints together before the start of practice, an uncharacteristic move by the quarterback to make sure that a team with so much experience in dealing with distractions was ready to handle the latest one.
The Saints were using the Cincinnati Bengals' grass fields on a sunny, 30°C afternoon while Hurricane Isaac bore down on New Orleans. They are finishing their pre-season the way their entire off-season has gone - one thing after another.
"A lot of this has been swirling around us and now all of a sudden, we're together and let's make sure we're out here with a purpose," Brees said, summing up his speech to the team on Tuesday. "It's to get better, not just to run around and run some plays.
"We've got a great group of guys, great leadership. Everybody understands we're going to weather the storm literally and find the way to make the most of it and make a positive out of a tough situation."
The Saints were forced to scramble when Isaac set course for New Orleans. They played a pre-season game on Saturday night, then rearranged their plans and spent Sunday and Monday evacuating their families and preparing their homes for the storm.
They have been through this drill several times already. The Saints played their entire 2005 season away from New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina devastated the region. They trained in Indianapolis the week before their 2008 season opener after Hurricane Gustav forced an evacuation.
Needing a place to practice for their final pre-season game tomorrow in Tennessee, the Saints found enough open hotel rooms in Cincinnati and received the Bengals' permission to use the visiting locker room at Paul Brown Stadium and work out on the adjacent fields.
Most of the team flew into town on Monday night. A few players arrived on Tuesday morning after evacuating their families. Brees drove his family to Birmingham, Alabama, then flew to Cincinnati on Tuesday morning.
When they were not in meetings or practice, players were on their phones or watching the storm's progress on television.
"I'm glued to the TV, just trying to see where that storm's tracking and how strong it is and what the projections are," Brees said. "The crazy thing is we're going to play a game in Nashville and by Thursday evening, the [remnant] of the storm is supposed to be there. So you can't really escape it."
The Saints held a team meeting, followed by practice and another meeting. They planned to travel to Nashville yesterday for a game that will mark another transition for the team.
Sean Payton, the head coach, was suspended for the season as part of the Saints' bounty scandal. His assistant Joe Vitt took over on an interim basis, but will start his six-game suspension next week. The offensive line coach Aaron Kromer will be in charge while Vitt is away.
In addition to handling the Saints' hectic week, Vitt is working out how to turn things over to Kromer during the final pre-season game.
"Really, I'm phasing out and he's phasing in," Vitt said. "His role will expand in the game. This is really the second phase of the transition that's going to have to take place."
So much has happened to the Saints in the off-season because of the bounty scandal that the schedule and travel changes did not seem to bother them very much.
"There is always adversity, there is always something that happens," Zach Strief, the offensive tackle, said. "This year it happened in the off-season.
"There is always going to be something, but I think the staff has been proactive on speaking about you'll be judged based on how you handle that. Some teams handle the adversity by tanking. Some teams handle the adversity by rising to the occasion. I think we've been pretty successful of that here in the past. This is just another one of those things."
Roman Harper, the safety, considered it part of being with the Saints.
"We are the best team in the league at midstream adjustments," Harper said.
Andrew Whitworth, the Bengals offensive tackle, who lives in Louisiana, said he was hoping to get in touch with some of the Saints during their brief visit.
"I know some of the guys up here and will try to reach out to them," Whitworth said. "They've had to deal with a lot over the years. It's just another year or another something that's probably made them as tough as they are as a football team, all the adversity they've overcome."