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Calvin College Graduate Part Of Front Office Staff of New Orleans Saints Headed to Super Bowl

Friday, February 05, 2010

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New Orleans Saints Web site

By Calvin Sports Information Director Jeff Febus (photo courtesy of New Orleans Saints)

Over the last nine years, Ian Tigchelaar has had a first-hand look at the resurgence of the New Orleans Saints.

A 1995 Calvin College graduate, Tigchelaar has been with the Saints’ organization since 2001 and currently serves as the director of business/marketing operations with the NFL franchise. This week, he is in Miami, Florida, with the team for its first-ever trip to the Super Bowl where the Saints will face the Indianapolis Colts.

Tigchelaar’s journey to the front office of an NFL organization began in a bit of an unusual way. After graduating from Calvin with a degree in social work in 1995, he worked for several years in ministry including a stint as a Young Life leader in Vero Beach, Florida. Looking for a career change, Tigchelaar relocated to New Orleans in 2001 and landed an internship with the Saints after interviewing at a job fair.

“I was one of 1,500 applicants at the job fair and I was fortunate to be one of the few to be offered an internship,” said Tigchelaar. That internship later turned into a full-time position.

Tigchelaar started with the Saints in their community outreach marketing program and later moved up to working with youth programs and suite operation sales. He was later promoted to manager of stadium operations and was recently promoted to his current position.

As director of business/marketing, Tigchelaar serves as the direct liaison with the Louisiana Superdome where the Saints play. “The Superdome is owned by the state of Louisiana so I work on a day-to-day basis with the stadium, making sure all of our interests are being handled, both during the week and on home game days,” he said.

In 2005, Tigchelaar was also a part of the relocation of the Saints to San Antonio, Texas. The temporary move came in the wake of Hurricane Katrina which roared through New Orleans shortly before the start of the NFL season and ripped apart the Superdome and the Saints’ headquarters, forcing the relocation.

”The storm hit shortly after our third pre-season game,” he said. “The day after the (pre-season) game, we left New Orleans for Memphis because of the impending storm. Once the storm hit, it became clear that we would not be playing in New Orleans that season.”

Along with the rest of the Saints’ organization, Tigchelaar relocated to San Antonio, setting up shop in the basement of the Alamodome where the team would play half of its home games during the 2005 season with the other half in Baton Rouge on the campus of Louisiana State University.

“Our staff set up a makeshift operation in the basement of the Alamodome working out of cubicles,” said Tigchelaar. “Shortly after the hurricane, I was sent back to New Orleans with some of the other staff members to try to recover some of our proprietary equipment. When we got back to New Orleans, it looked like a war zone. It was a bad situation and when I saw the Superdome, I did not think the facility would ever host a game again.”

After the 2005 season, the Saints had a decision to make on whether to return to New Orleans or not. “After the (2005) season we found out the Superdome could be salvaged and our owner, Mr. (Tom) Benson met with the NFL Commissioner (Paul Tagliabue at the time) to determine our future,” said Tigchelaar. “Mr. Benson made the commitment shortly after these meetings to move the team back to New Orleans, taking a leap of faith that there would be a population to attend our games and that our team would be part of the engine to get things going again in New Orleans.”

In January of 2006, the entire organization moved back to New Orleans and Tigchelaar was there to witness it all. “I felt like a fly on a wall for the entire rebuilding process,” he said. “I saw first-hand the rebuilding of the Superdome and I was able to track the progress and see that the commitments were being fulfilled. It was very interesting to say the least.”

At the same time, the Saints were negotiating a contract with free agent quarterback Drew Brees who was in the process of leaving the San Diego Chargers. In March of 2006, Brees signed with the Saints and continued on to lead the franchise to the NFC Championship game in his first year with the team. At the conclusion of the season, Brees was selected as the NFL’s co-recipient of the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award along with San Diego’s Ladainian Tomlinson for his volunteer and service work within the New Orleans community. Brees was also the runner-up for the NFL’s Most Valuable Player Award.

According to Tigchelaar, Brees is the real thing both on and off the field. 

“When Drew signed with us, he was coming off a year where he had injured his shoulder in San Diego and was looking at us and Miami as teams to sign with,” said Tigchelaar. “We rolled out the red carpet with our recruitment of him and it became pretty obvious early on that coming to New Orleans was a calling for him. He became a leader immediately within our team and within our community. He has established his own Brees Dream Foundation in order to make charitable donations and constantly makes himself available. He sees the big picture and references his Christian faith in his calling to be a part of the community.”  Drew Brees Dream Foundation Web site

The Saints are led by head coach Sean Payton who is much like Brees says Tigchelaar. “Coach Payton is also very involved in the community and I have been very impressed with our team as a whole in this regard,” said Tigchelaar. “You can tell that this team takes it lead from Coach Payton and from Drew and when it comes to offensive football, they are almost like blood brothers because they are always on the same page.”

Tigchelaar is not the only Calvin connection to the New Orleans Saints as former Saints quarterback Danny Wuerfell is married to 1997 Calvin graduate Jessica Krause Wuerfell and is heavily involved in the Desire Street Ministries in urban New Orleans. “I have bumped into Danny from time to time at alumni events,” said Tigchelaar. “Danny is another example of how heavily involved our organization is with the New Orleans community.”

Desire Street Ministries Web site

Calvin College Spark Story on Danny and Jessica Wuerffel

As for the community itself, Tigchelaar is well aware that everyone in New Orleans is pulling for the Saints. “The Saints are truly the team of the New Orleans community,” he said. “Our fans are loyal and passionate about the Saints. When the team wins, there is an entire different feeling come Monday in our city.”

Leading up to the Super Bowl this weekend, Tigchelaar had a new assignment. “I was on a team in charge of setting up charters to the Super Bowl for friends and family members of the Saints,” he said.

“We have around 1,500 people heading down in that group. Last year, we played a game in Europe and I had the same assignment. We had four months to prepare for that event but in this case we only had about six days to organize it all. It’s been a lot of late nights and early mornings setting that up but obviously it’s worth it.”

Tigchelaar’s parents live in Kentwood. His sister Alisa also lives in the Grand Rapids area and is an assistant professor in Calvin’s Spanish Department. His father, Reverend Robert Tigchelaar, is a pastor at Kelloggsville Christian Reformed Church and a former Calvin cross country runner.

“My father is an avid runner and has really gotten into triathlons,” said Tigchelaar with a chuckle. “If you see someone in Kentwood jogging around wearing New Orleans Saints gear, that’s probably him.”

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