Karney and New Orleans Saints Down, but Not Out

These days are challenging to say the least for individuals such as Saints' fullback Mike Karney. One wouldn't blame him and his New Orleans teammates to be in a deep state of despair, which can potentially doom a regular season that hasn't even started. However, much like the rising waters in the city he calls home, the former Sun Devils fullback told Devils Digest that his team's optimism is surging as they prepare to tackle what could be their toughest season ever on and off the field.

"I'm heavy hearted and the team is very heavy hearted," said Mike Karney from San Jose where his team is preparing for their pre-season game finale against the Oakland Raiders. "This (the hurricane) obviously hit us very hard. This is a real life tough situation and we're just trying to do our best now to get over it. This is the city I live and work in, and it's very hard to see what's happening to it."

Unlike a lot of his comrades, Karney didn't have any loved ones in the path of hurricane Katrina. "I'm obviously blessed and fortunate that I didn't have anyone down there," he remarked. "But a lot of my teammates have family there. Their immediate family evacuated, but they also have a lot of extended family – uncles, cousins…that are stuck down there."

While the images from New Orleans are constantly been published and shown in every imaginable media outlet, they don't offer much news to players such as Karney who live in the suburbs of the partially submerged city. "Right now everything is speculation," he explained. "Anybody who owns anything in downtown can tell by watching TV what's going on there - it's self explanatory. We heard various things about various areas in the New Orleans metropolitan area. I live west of New Orleans and I heard that there's no flooding but extensive damage, and I heard that's the same with our facility. But with the levies breaking down more homes and our facility could be under water. No one really knows the extent of the damage to your property unless you live downtown " The fullback added that he and the team were told that they could be ordered away from their homes for a period of three months.

With the hasty departure of the team out of New Orleans, less than 24 hours before the hurricane struck, how could Karney and the other Saints' players possibly pack enough belongings for such an extended stay away from home? "That's the tough thing," he admitted. "As I'm speaking to you right now, I'm shopping at a mall with a few teammates. We're just getting stuff that will get us through. Some guys brought a lot of clothes but the majority of us didn't bring enough to last us for a long time. I just packed for 4-5 days. Now I basically have to restore my whole closet. Again, I'm fortunate I didn't have any loved ones down there, but it's still tough because you think about your house, your car…everything you own and you don't know if it's under water or not."

For the Saints, their temporary home away from home will be San Antonio, where they will travel to following the Raiders game. "We'll be living at a hotel in downtown San Antonio as long as we need to," said Karney. "We're hoping that it will be sooner than the three months they're telling us, but it doesn't look that way. We have eight home games to play, and we don't know where they're gonna be played at because the Superdome had such extensive damage. There's just a lot of question marks right now."

A much happier moment not only for the Saints organization, but also for Karney, ex-Arizona State teammate defensive lineman Jimmy Verdon and the rest of the Sun Devil nation, occurred in the New Orleans' pre-season game two weeks ago at the New England Patriots. Not only did New Orleans win that contest 37-27, but the pair of former ASU teammates both scored their first touchdowns as NFL players.

"Even though it's the pre-season, and this touchdown doesn't count in the records, it counts in my book (smile)," remarked Karney. "It's been four years since I scored. I think the last time I scored I was a sophomore at ASU. To come into Foxboro and beat the defending world champions, that's great no matter what. I scored my touchdown against their defensive first unit, and I was excited. I was very happy for Jimmy because he's a Sun Devil and also my teammate."

Karney stated that he believes that Verdon, who was drafted this last April by the Saints in the seventh round, will survive the team's cuts and make the squad. "He turned a lot of heads down here," Karney explained. "The coaches like him a lot and like what he's doing. The defensive line coach is the reason that Jimmy was drafted by New Orleans. I think things are looking good for him. Obviously this last game against the Raiders he'll play a lot and they'll be a lot of evaluation on him. I hope he plays well. He definitely showed that he should be part of this team and play in the NFL."

Ironically, if Verdon were to have a solid showing on Thursday, it could involve a hit or two on a player he was never permitted to even lay a hand on during his maroon and gold tenure – Raiders rookie quarterback and fellow ex-ASU player Andrew Walter. "That would be funny," Karney said of that scenario. "I know Jimmy will be licking his chops because he never got to sack him in practice – no defensive player was allowed to touch Andrew in practice. No more of that tomorrow (smile)."

Personally speaking, Karney may have had the natural trials and tribulations of an NFL rookie in 2004. Nonetheless, he sounds like a player who's ready to capitalize in a major way on the lessons learned last season. "I feel great and it's amazing what one year can do for you experience wise," he said. "Coming into camp, I'm just flying around and I'm comfortable in my own shoes. I know what I'm doing, I've been injury-free so far, and I'm ready to go."

A change in the Saints' offensive scheme is undoubtedly putting a little bounce in this bruising style player's step. "We cut down our playbook and we're getting back to more of a power game with (running back) Deuce Mcallister," he explained. "I feel really good about this situation I'm in."

Much like the famous saying ‘turning lemons into lemonade' Karney and the Saints vow not only to fight the enormous adversity they will face all season, but also win that battle convincingly. "We had a team meeting yesterday (Tuesday) morning, and we covered a lot of issues concerning everything that's going on," he said. "The one thing we talked about at the end of the meeting is that we can bring the city hope, create a positive out of this situation."

"That's something we're gonna do, and hopefully we can be the Cinderella story of the NFL – a homeless team makes it happen," Karney continued. "Things happen for a reason, and one of those reasons was for us to have a good season and bring hope to our fans and have them cheering. We're all professionals and we're not gonna shut it down. This is the job we chose, this is the hand we were dealt, and we'll make the best of it. I really feel that if we all stick together, and realize that this situation is the way it's gonna be for a while, we'll be just fine."

Wounded yet resilient – the Saints come marching in head high into the 2005 campaign...

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