CLEVELAND (AP) New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson has given back to ''the birthplace of our game.''
Benson has pledged $11 million in donations to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. One of the gifts will be earmarked to renovate adjacent Fawcett Stadium, which will be renamed after the Saints' long-time owner.
The Hall announced Benson's two gifts on Monday, saying the contributions are the largest by any individual in the institution's 51-year history.
Benson said he was moved to make the donations after learning about the Hall's plans for a ''Hall of Fame Village,'' which will include a residence for Hall of Famers and former NFL players, a sports and entertainment complex, hotel and conference center, a youth center and playing fields.
''I think it is important that we, as owners, as teams, as administrators, players and coaches all recognize the origins of our game and embrace the future, I believe the Hall of Fame Village will be the pre-eminent focal point of that,'' said Benson, who bought the Saints in 1985. ''I would have never dreamed how much the game of football would have impacted my life personally, but more importantly, it has impacted the city of New Orleans, our fans, and generations of people and has served as a beacon of hope during tough times. I cherish the role our team plays in our community.''
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell applauded Benson's benevolence.
''Tom Benson's leadership has been instrumental in the NFL's success and growth for nearly 30 years as owner of the Saints, including more than 20 years as chairman of the league's Finance Committee,'' Goodell said. ''His generous gift to the Hall of Fame will forever link Tom's legacy to the game he loves and to the legends who helped build it.''
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