Tony Le Mon went to his first New Orleans Saints game in 1967. At seven years old, he was so hooked, he started mowing neighbors' lawns so he could buy tickets to every home game. His South American father and German mother didn't understand football, so he has his uncle to thank for introducing him to his beloved football team.
Now, Le Mon is 52, and he's not happy about what's going on with his favorite team.This has been the spring of discontent for the New Orleans Saints, who are heading into the 2012 season tainted with Bountygate penalties and missing their beloved coach. Add the fact that quarterback and local hero Drew Brees has refused to sign a one-year franchise tag in hopes of securing a longer, more lucrative contract, and Le Mon and his fellow fans have been feeling pretty gloomy.
But Le Mon isn't sitting and waiting anymore. This week, he launched a website called FansStepUp.com seeking donations to give Brees a bonus -- straight from the fans' wallets.
"I kept thinking, there must be a way for our fans to feel empowered. We have a large stake in this team," Le Mon says, adding that the economic and emotional impact of the Saints success has been invaluable to New Orleans' recovery after Hurricane Katrina. As the offensive player of the year, Brees in undoubtedly a champion on the field, but off the field, he could probably win the Louisiana governor's seat without showing up to a debate.
Le Mon says it doesn't matter if fans can contribute $1 or $100. What matters is sending a message to the quarterback that the fans want to keep him. So far, he's raised just over $1,000.
"The Saints may have a salary cap, but there's nothing to stop the fans from creating a bonus to thank Drew for everything he's done for us," Le Mon says.
Yeah, the thought of regular people digging into their wallets for a millionaire quarterback -- one who stands to make $16 million if he does sign the one-year contract -- might sound a little crazy. But Le Mon is pretty confident that Brees won't accept the money. If that's the case, he promises to donate all of it to the Brees Dream Foundation, which raises money for cancer research and support. Backing Brees is a big part of Le Mon's mission, but that's not all.
"The idea is really to draw some attention to the situation and get the parties talking again, get to them to finalize this deal," Le Mon says. "Whether the money goes to Brees or to his charity, it's a no-lose."
Le Mon, an attorney, Ironman triathlete and known philanthropist in the New Orleans area, has appeared on every New Orleans TV news show, and locals are talking about Fans Step Up at lunch and on the street.
"This is about rogue fans saying, 'If you can't come to terms for Brees, we'll add a little lagniappe on our own.'"
It looks like Le Mon never let go of that determined young Saints fan, the one once armed with only a lawnmower.
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