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Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
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K.C. has New Orleans flavor
VooDoo personnel, forced out by Katrina, form core of Brigade.
By FRANK PASTOR
Published March 5, 2006
Evacuating, Kevin Porter knew, was part of living in New Orleans. He would gather his wife and two sons, pack a few belongings and head to his brother-in-law's home in Houston for two or three days as he had done twice before.
Only this time was different.
When Porter left his apartment the day before Hurricane Katrina arrived in September, he never imagined relocating to Kansas City, living in a hotel for three months or coaching a team of Arena league players who had been displaced in their own way.
Porter coaches the expansion Kansas City Brigade, whose roster is stocked with players from the New Orleans VooDoo. Kansas City joined the league a year ahead of schedule after New Orleans announced it was suspending operations for the season because of limited resources.
With only four months to prepare, the Brigade (1-4) has taken its lumps in the rough-and-tumble Southern Division. Its task won't get any easier when the Storm (3-2) visits today.
"For all of us guys that were in New Orleans, I think even though our season isn't going great right now, all of us are just happy to have survived the experience, and we get to continue to be around familiar people," Porter said. "It hasn't made the transition easier, but it has definitely made it manageable."
Seeking an investment opportunity as he considered retirement, ex-NFL defensive back Ryan McNeil asked his agent, Tyler Prochnow, to look into putting a team in Kansas City.
McNeil decided to return to the NFL, but Prochnow liked the idea and approached former Chiefs and Broncos defensive end Neil Smith about joining the ownership group. The group agreed on a lease with Kemper Arena and planned to begin play in 2007.
That changed after it became apparent New Orleans would not be able to play this season. Kansas City offered use of its facilities, and the league approved the franchise and allocated 12 New Orleans players to it in October.
Even before the hurricane, the Brigade had identified Porter, the winningest coach in arenafootball2 history (with a 45-27 record), as its coach. That Porter knew the players from his job as New Orleans' defensive coordinator was pure coincidence.
"If we didn't have that in place, I'm not sure we would have been able to pull off all the moving parts of starting a franchise in four months," Prochnow said.
The team had to find places for its players to live, work out and practice. When its pads and playing surface didn't arrive in time for a scrimmage against Grand Rapids, it borrowed pads from the Arkansas Twisters of af2 and had the ArenaBowl field shipped from Las Vegas.
One thing that hasn't been lacking is support. Attendance for the home opener was 300 over Kemper's 16,200-seat capacity. The team sold out of its allotment of merchandise in two weeks.
The Brigade's backers include many former VooDoo fans.
"To realize the love that we really got from them, that we had for them as well, makes you feel good and makes you want to go out and play just a little bit harder," said lineman B.J. Cohen, a member of the Storm's 2003ArenaBowl championship squad.
Though it has tried to forge its own identity with a new nickname, logo and colors, the Kansas City franchise remains linked with the hurricane.
Porter lost many of the belongings he and his wife accumulated over 15 years of marriage. Smith's parents lost the roof of their house. Cohen grew up in Donaldsville, La., about 45 minutes from New Orleans. Lineman Mike Landry and wide receiver/linebacker Nate Black have family there. "I don't think anybody is ever going to get completely removed from the hurricane," Porter said. "I don't think it's possible."
The disaster struck a chord with Cohen when his daughter showed him a newspaper photo of a man in a Cohen jersey holding a child and covering a man who died in his wheelchair.
At the expense of their own Christmas, Cohen's family, which lives in Atlanta, donated gifts to a shelter for children relocated from New Orleans.
"That (photo) was really devastating for me," Cohen said. "It touched me so hard that I wanted to do something."
The league has not given up on New Orleans. Mike Neu was retained as coach, and the VooDoo plans to return to the city as soon as it is economically and logistically possible. In addition, the league will play a futureArenaBowl in New Orleans.
The ex-VooDoo players signed by the Brigade can negotiate with either team during the one-month, exclusive free-agent signing period after the season.
As it moves forward as a franchise, the Brigade hasn't ignored its New Orleans roots. The team set up a charitable fund to provide donations for Hurricane Katrina relief and held a moment of silence at its home opener to remember the victims.
"We have a responsibility, I think, to remind people where we came from, but it's not something we're using," Prochnow said. "We haven't gone out and marketed, "Come help the victims of Hurricane Katrina by buying Arena football tickets.' "