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Saints visit oil spill victims, will raffle Super Bowl ring to raise money

FORT JACKSON, La. -- A Who Dat Nation weary from the worst-ever U.S. oil spill set aside its misery for a few hours Tuesday to schmooze with the Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints.

Along the main highway to Fort Jackson in Plaquemines Parish, coach Sean Payton, team owner Tom Benson and some players passed "Who Dat?" banners that sprouted where anti-BP signs had stood.

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A crowd packed the fort, which has been a staging area for cleaning birds rescued from the oil flowing from BP's well in the Gulf of Mexico.

In oppressive heat, a jazz band played and Payton and star quarterback Drew Brees signed autographs. The distraction for the community since oil began washing up in April was evident and appreciated.

"We haven't had anything to smile about in a while," Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungesser said. "Today, at least people are getting the chance."

Brees also announced a chance for a lucky fan to win a Super Bowl ring like those that will soon be worn by the team. The Saints plan to raffle a ring, with all funds going to aid victims of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

Tickets are $2 each, but buyers must make a minimum $10 order. The winner will be announced before the Sept. 9 regular-season game against the Minnesota Vikings. The Saints hope to raise $1 million through the effort.

Most Plaquemines coastal waters have been closed to fishing. Some fishermen have found work with BP contractors in booming coastal marshes to protect from the oil.

But the oil has encroached well into some marshes, and no one knows what the long-term impact will be on the oysters, shrimp and other seafood species that are a lifeblood of the local economy.

Le and Shawn Townsend said they spent Monday spotting oiled birds in the bayous around their home in the marshes, and they were frustrated with attempts to get BP to act on their finds.

Le Townsend said she was delighted the Saints were in Plaquemines and that "the crowd would have been bigger if they told us they were bringing Tony Hayward to kick."

Hayward is CEO of BP, which operated the rig Deepwater Horizon until it exploded April 20, killing 11 people, and sank two days later about 50 miles southeast of the mouth of the Mississippi River. Millions of gallons of oil have spilled into the Gulf of Mexico since then.

Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press

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