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Disaster felt by former Cougars

Colby Bockwoldt and Ben Archibald are New Orleans Saints living, working and playing out of San Antonio, as Mother Nature pounds the Gulf Coast, chewing up their former home.

The seriousness, the deadliness and the subtle life-changing power of hurricanes Katrina and Rita are not lost on the two former BYU football players.

They are gladiators, thrown in the ring for entertainment. The entertainment goes on under a cloud of those who suffer. Irony?

Yes, indeed.

Bockwoldt, a starting linebacker and emerging defensive leader for the Saints, just bought a house in the southwest portion of New Orleans this past spring. His wife, Ashley, had just delivered their first child, Rees, now 7 weeks old, when Katrina hit and the call for evacuation churned up this NFL franchise and sent it on the road for the season.

Archibald is the eighth offensive lineman on a team in which seven suit up on game days. He's training to be a backup center.

Bockwoldt's house was spared in the Katrina disaster, with minor rain gutter and roof damage. Archibald's apartment near the airport had similar minor damage, including wet carpet. Both were ordered to abandon their living quarters and move with the team out of New Orleans. Archibald and his wife, Jodi, are now settled into a place in San Antonio.

Ashley and the newborn child are in Denver, staying with her parents until there is more stability. Bockwoldt doesn't know when they'll be reunited. It may not be until after the season.

The Saints first took their team to San Jose, Calif., before landing in San Antonio. Once there, Saints players began living out of suitcases while they found more stable living arrangements and then moved additional belongings out of beleaguered New Orleans during days off the past three weeks.

The Saints organization shipped cars of players to San Antonio, where the athletes have been bused to practices at a local high school, bused to team meetings in a convention center, and in the early going, bused to a workout facility to lift weights and keep up a training regime.

"It's not too bad. We are trying to get settled," Archibald said.

He does worry about his friends and neighbors left behind in Louisiana.

"We can't communicate with ward members," he said. "There just isn't a way. We did hear that last Sunday our entire stake had a sacrament meeting with combined wards."

Bockwoldt said the mess with the storm and not having a home has made football different, but the business still goes on.

"This is the first time in NFL history an entire team has had to move for a season," Bockwoldt said. "We definitely know that New Orleans is where our home is and that's where our fan base is. But all we can do is stay focused on football and win games."

But isn't this all just out of whack?

Of course it is, say the players. But so is the challenge at hand — turning away from tragedy and putting everything into a game of sport.

"It's always hard," Bockwoldt said. "This is a very tough league, and the distraction is secondary to our job. We get paid a nice chunk of change to go out and do our jobs, play football, and we can't let distractions take us away from the focus of football."

Archibald said it is just different. And the sound of this different season, place and time in this setting has an echo that will linger.

"It will take a long, long time for New Orleans to get back to normal, if it ever does," Archibald said.

In the offseason, he had friends and family drop in, and they toured the famed downtown areas before Katrina. Now, the French Quarter is actually in pretty good shape although other parts of the city look like an atomic bomb hit.

It isn't lost on Saints players that hundreds of thousands are homeless and more than a thousand have died because of the storm — many of them poor and elderly.

It also isn't lost on them that alongside football, the real life issues dwarf what they do. But they also represent the Deep South and feel a responsibility to do so with dignity and purpose.

"It's something we'll never forget. This is a part of something in history, and it isn't going to go away," Archibald said.

With that, Bockwoldt and Archibald handed back a cell phone to a team spokesman. The interviews were over. They picked up their gear and headed for practice, preparing for a game with the Vikings — on the road in Minnesota. Everything is on the road.

For these Saints, the game goes marching on.


E-mail: dharmon@desnews.com