Column: Saints make New Orleans smile




 
--
Column: Saints make New Orleans smile
 
January 14th, 2007  
Team Infidel
 
 

Topic: Column: Saints make New Orleans smile


Column: Saints make New Orleans smile


NANCY ARMOUR

AP Sports Columnist

NEW ORLEANS - The streets were awash in black and gold, and it's safe to say the French never dreamed of some of the ways New Orleans Saints fans were displaying the fleur de lis.
One giant neighborhood block party was pulsing outside the Superdome before Saturday night's playoff game - with the entire city invited. Fans danced, laughed, soaked up the sun and partied as if something special was about to happen.
It might not seem like much, those few hours to play. Happens every weekend in places across the country. For a city struggling to piece itself back together, though, the Saints are more than a little distraction.
They're saviors. And, after beating Philadelphia 27-24, they're on the verge of being in the Super Bowl. Funny how this place hosted all those Super Bowls but never had a team in it. Maybe that will change now. Lots of things have changed here.
"We felt, every time out we were playing not only for each other and this team, but for the city, the community," Drew Brees said. "I get stopped 20 times a day with people telling me how it helped them go about their day, their lives."
It's easy to blow sports out of proportion, and we do it far too often. The games we play aren't life and death, and world peace doesn't hang in the balance. The stage and the stakes may be bigger, but the games themselves aren't much different from the ones we played as kids.
But every once in a while, sports can help, can soothe, can heal. If ever there was a perfect time for it to happen, it was this year, this team, this city.
"It's just a blessing that you can come here and take your mind off everything," Sterling Barthelemy said.
Barthelemy and his wife, Therese, were uprooted to Dallas for six months after Katrina blew through New Orleans on Aug. 29, 2005. Their house is still a work in progress, so "home" for now is a trailer they got from the federal government. Unlike the thousands who crammed the streets around the Superdome prior to the game, the couple spent their afternoon at hardware stores.
When they walked into the Superdome, though, Therese Barthelemy was grinning broadly and giddily shaking her black-and-gold pompoms.
"After the game, you still have to go back to your FEMA trailer," she said. "But you're able to get away for four hours."
There are plenty of cities that have special bonds with their teams. Cleveland and the Browns, for one. Green Bay - heck, all of Wisconsin - and the Packers.
But there has always been something unique about the Saints and New Orleans. For the Saints' first 39 years, it was more of a tortured affair. The people of New Orleans adored them, and the Saints found various ways to disappoint.
After Katrina's destruction, it seemed as if the Saints would break New Orleans' heart again. Forced to flee to San Antonio, many feared the team would stay there.
Instead, the Saints came back, and have given everyone here reason to hope.
First it was mostly symbolic, a sign the city could rebuild and resemble its old self. But as the team - once mocked as the 'Aints - piled up the wins, it became so much more.
"With everything that's gone on here ... with how much recovery we still have to go, this is a bright spot," said head coach Sean Payton, who high-fived a line of fans when he arrived at the Superdome.
Look around New Orleans, and there's plenty to depress and divide. Homes that are still abandoned. French Quarter streets that are filling up, but aren't nearly as crazy as they once were. A rash of murders that is as frightening as it stunning.
But instead of coming apart, New Orleans pulled together behind the one thing everyone can believe in.
"This has really been the rebirth of New Orleans," said Tonya Dupree, a season-ticket holder for the first time this year. "If you were depressed about something, the Saints took all that away."
Even those who didn't like football much broke out the Saints gear, showing allegiance not just to the team, but the entire city.
"If you believe in justice," Horace Urquhart said, "the Saints are meant to win this year."
Being responsible for someone else's happiness is an immense burden, too heavy for most. Now multiply it by an entire city.
But the Saints are happy to carry the load. Wouldn't mind toting it all the way to Miami, in fact, for the Super Bowl on Feb. 4.
"We just hope we can put a little kick in their step Monday and Tuesday," Payton said, "and give them something to look forward to next weekend."
If any city deserves the ride, it's New Orleans.
 


Similar Topics
Reggie and Deuce make Saints contender
Saints' Bush wants to be more than decoy
Saints gave Big Easy something to cheer about with 23-3 win over Falcons
Unbeaten Saints.... who would have thought?
What was said on the 3rd presidential debate.