Tom Benson's legacy in the NFL and New Orleans is complicated. From repeated rumors of moving the team from New Orleans to the legal issues he faced near the end of his life, Benson was a polarizing figure around the league. But no one can deny that he made a genius move when he bought the Saints on this day in 1985 for $70,204,000.
Forbes most recent valuation of the Saints was $2.275 billion. While inflation would increase Benson's purchase of the Saints from $70 million to around $171 million today, it's clear he made a smart investment when he bought the team from John Mecom.
After buying the Saints, Benson had an up-and-down career as their owner. The highs started immediately when he hired Jim Mora as coach and they made their first playoff appearance in 1987. The Saints also won their first Super Bowl in 2009 and Benson's celebratory sideline dancing in the waning seconds of wins, replete with an umbrella in true New Orleans fashion, made him a popular man among casual fans.
Things weren't always perfect, however. Rumors circulated in 2001 that Benson was considering relocating the team amidst negotiations with Louisiana over renovation funds for the Superdome. In 2005, reports indicated he was considering a permanent move to San Antonio after the team was forced to play there because of Hurricane Katrina. Those rumors put a damper on his reputation around New Orleans, but ultimately didn't come to fruition as the NFL committed to keeping the team there.
Benson passed away in 2018 and his third wife Gayle took over as Owner/Chairman of the Board. His adopted daughter from his first marriage, Renee, and grandchildren, Ryan Benson LeBlanc and Rita Benson LeBlanc, were originally expected to take control of the Saints, but Benson changed his will in 2014, which led to a legal dispute. Gayle ultimately retained control of the team.
Regardless of the ups and downs, Tom Benson (along with help from Sean Peyton and Drew Brees) transformed the Saints from the laughingstock of the NFL to one of the top teams to play for. On this day 35 years ago, that journey started.