Who would have guessed that just five years after Hurricane Katrina tore through New Orleans, ripping open its levees and leaving its residents traumatized, the Big Easy’s football team would be playing in the Super Bowl? No matter the final score of Sunday’s NFL championship, we all bleed black and gold for a city that will not give up.
The Saints improbable run for the Super Bowl is an example of how sports can be so much more than just an athletic competition. This team has become the heart and soul of New Orleans, playing its home games under the same dome that Katrina ripped apart as residents sought shelter from the storm. The images are still fresh in our memories of thousands of people making their way to the Super Dome to save themselves, and the many who did not survive. The triumphant return of the Saints to their repaired stadium, and the emotional outpouring of their fans, stands out as one of the most memorable moments in sports history. Led by a quarterback who beat the odds to become a premier player in the NFL, the New Orleans Saints are playing for something much bigger than the Vince Lombardi championship trophy.
Quarterback Drew Brees and his teammates have become an important part of civic life in New Orleans, volunteering their time and making it clear that they have a stake in the city’s recovery. The pride in the team exhibited by the city is not just a result of points scored on the field, but because the team has moved beyond the celebrity of professional sports and showed its “human” side. When their fans speak glowingly about their Saints, it’s clear that their frame of reference is not just wins and losses. The Saints have transcended football, and what could be more appropriate for a team bearing that name.
Now, those Saints have their fans dancing in the streets of the French Quarter as they prepare to do battle against a very tough Indianapolis Colts team. When the New Orleans players and coaches emerge from the tunnel in the stadium in Miami, and take the field, they will carry with them the spirit of the Lower Ninth Ward and those who perished in the storm. They will also carry with them the hopes of victims of Katrina who had no choice but to leave their beloved city but long to return home. It will not be a moment of sadness though; in fact, it will be a moment of the triumph of the human spirit. Despite the tremendous loss the people of New Orleans experienced because of Katrina, their dogged determination to rebound is an inspiration to all of us.
Like many Americans and fans worldwide, we will watch the Super Bowl with anticipation of a tough game. Each team has its own arsenal of standout players, and there is a chance that we could witness another nail biter of a championship. We won’t take sides but we will admit to being emotionally invested in the recovery of New Orleans. In other words, there is a piece of us that always roots for the underdog and find the Saints and their fans to be an inspiration.
Someone will lose the big game and have to settle for being second best on the gridiron. What is also true is that the New Orleans Saints have been the balm to soothe the hurt of a city. There is no trophy that the Saints can receive that can truly recognize the enormous importance of that team to its city. So, to answer the question: Who Dat? It's the Saints, that's who!