We have no doubt Avery Johnson can give one hell of a pep talk. But we're also sure it sounds kinda funny.

Assist to Avery

Couldn't help but get goosebumps watching the Saints come home to New Orleans on Monday Night Football. The Saints beat the Falcons in their first game at the Superdome since Hurricane Katrina. George H. W. Bush was there. Reggie Bush was there. A sellout crowd--sadly, no official group representing the flooded 9th Ward--was there. And, giving a pre-game motivational speech and accepting a post-game game ball, Dallas Mavericks coach Avery Johnson was there.

"It's kinda hard to describe, because there were a lot of different emotions," Johnson told the KTCK-AM (1310, The Ticket) "Dunham & Miller" morning show today. "Some of the same people that were there stayed in the Superdome for days waiting to be rescued. It made for an electric night."

Johnson, a New Orleans native who had several family members displaced by the hurricane, said the game shouldn't be taken as a sign hat New Orleans is back to normal. "It's still in pretty bad shape," Johnson said. "They've made some progress. But it's not there yet. It's going to take a long time get it back together. All the storm really did is expose problems we've had for years. Poor education. Poverty. Corrupt politics."

Avery became friends with Saints coach Sean Payton when he was a Cowboys assistant. Payton called him to give his team a pre-game pep talk, then surprised Johnson with a game ball after the monumental victory that raised the Saints record to 3-0 and lifted New Orleans' spirits.

"I was shocked," Avery said. "I was just basically trying to stay out of the way."

Johnson will get back to his real job on Monday, when the Mavericks tip off training camp--yes, already--at the University of North Texas in Denton. And, as this tells you, it's only 37 days until the Mavs host the San Antonio Spurs in the 2006-07 season opener. --Richie Whitt

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