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Horn excited about return to New Orleans

POSTED: October 24, 2007 5:03 a.m.

ATLANTA — The Ambassador is ready for his return to the Louisiana Superdome.

Joe Horn, an outspoken proponent of New Orleans’ rebuilding spirit and a four-time Pro Bowl selection for the Saints, will play his first game in New Orleans as an Atlanta Falcons receiver.

When the Falcons arrive in his adopted hometown this weekend, Horn plans to drive through New Orleans and see how the community’s spirit is holding up two years after Hurricane Katrina.

"My concern is the city," Horn said this week. "I want to know if people have come back. I want to know if the houses are being built. I care about the fans. The football team? I play for the Atlanta Falcons, but I really do care about the fans, and my heart is still in New Orleans." Expecting a mixed reception from fans on Sunday, Horn wants to give everyone a good show when the Falcons (1-5) and Saints (1-4) kick off on Sunday.

Horn would love to catch 10 passes, score a touchdown and help Atlanta finally win an NFC game, but his first six games with the Falcons have been anything but spectacular.

With only 117 yards receiving and no TDs, Horn hasn’t provided the boost Atlanta envisioned when owner Arthur Blank signed him to a four-year contract with $7.5 million in guaranteed bonuses.

He has just 11 catches to rank seventh on the team. Maybe a change in quarterbacks will give Horn more chances. Falcons coach Bobby Petrino benched Joey Harrington this week in favor of Byron Leftwich as Atlanta continues to try and fill the void left by suspended quarterback Michael Vick.

"Joey Harrington knows I have his back. Byron Leftwich knows I have his back," Horn said. "If Mike was here, I’d do the same thing and put every bit of energy I have into helping this team win football games."

The colorful Falcons-Saints rivalry, which spans four decades, has lost some excitement since Vick’s first season as a full-time starter in 2002. Only one of the last five games, a 34-31 Falcons victory two years ago in San Antonio, was decided by less than 13 points.

Atlanta has a three-game losing streak at the Superdome, and New Orleans outscored the Falcons 54-16 in their two games last year.

Horn’s influence on the series has been remarkable. Other than leaving a 2005 game with an injury, Horn played 13 times against Atlanta, catching 67 passes for 1,070 yards and five TDs.

His departure from the Saints was no surprise when they released him in March. Though Horn started nine games last year, coach Sean Payton had already begun phasing him out as younger players like Reggie Bush, Devery Henderson and Marques Colston emerged.

A groin injury, which sidelined Horn for six games, extended into the playoffs and kept him off the field for a divisional victory over Seattle and New Orleans’ first appearance in the NFC title game.

Saints quarterback Drew Brees, however, believes fans will recall Horn’s athletic and charitable efforts and give him a warm welcome.

"There won’t be a single boo," Brees said. "Everybody will be cheering for Joe. He meant a lot to this organization for a long time. He did a lot for the community as well. A lot of people around here love Joe Horn."

Along with running back Deuce McAllister, Horn worked hard to help New Orleans recover from the wreckage of Katrina.

Horn is unlikely to see much recovery. An estimated 80,000 houses are still vacant. National Guard and state troopers have been called in as a deterrent to violent crimes that escalated while New Orleans’ police force grew smaller.

Anger at the Bush administration, Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco and Mayor Ray Nagin continues to rage throughout the region. But Horn, who played seven years for the Saints, chooses to cast aside blame and focus on what’s going right for New Orleans.

"When a family goes through some things and a person on the football team is part of that and there’s lives lost and that person is part of bringing the city back, people will never forget that," Horn said. "They have heart. No matter who comes in and tries to change it around, they’ll always remember that."



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