Brandy On New Orleans

Brandy Pigeon

A Feast for All Saints...Fans

By Brandy Pigeon

"The Atlanta Game" - Three words that nearly four months later, can and still bring a smile, a chuckle, or even goose-bumps to so many New Orleanians. That Monday night, September 25, 2006, some sort of Divine intervention happened, there's no other way to describe it. The Superdome, a stadium that Pre-Katrina, was a place many Saints fans believed was cursed. After all, how else could one rationalize the fact that in the team's 40 year history, there had never been a NFC Championship banner to hang from the rafters, never a Lombardi Trophy to be hoisted up by the owner, and never a shiny new ring on the hands of our players. There's only one logical explanation...the curse. 

The Superdome became an international icon on August 30, 2005; but not for hosting yet another Superbowl the Saints weren't invited to; but as a symbol of human tragedy, hopelessness, and death. With the roof blown off and the waters rising, the world watched as thousands were trapped inside with nowhere to go. When the citizens of New Orleans returned weeks and months later to see what was left of our beloved city, the Superdome looked like a shell of what she once was. The gaping hole in her roof, the waterlogged astroturf, and the smell of death and despair had overcome this "Coliseum of the South". New Orleanians who had come home and those still evacuated, didn't know how we could ever look forward to going back inside that dome. How could we cheer once more in a building that housed so much heartache, and who knew if there would even be a team to cheer for should they rebuild it? We all had too much to handle to worry about football anyway. 

The 2005-2006 Saints season came and went. The Black and Gold only won 3 games, and Saints fans throughout the Gulf South feared their team would be lost to another city. A city that could give them a new stadium, and rich corporate sponsors, and most of all - a city that had enough residents to fill the seats on Sundays. The NFL and Tom Benson decided to give the New Orleans Saints a chance to go home to a city that, even then, didn't realize just how much they needed them. So a new coach was hired, an injured quarterback was picked up in free agency, and Houston - after helping so much after Hurricane Katrina - decided to give the Big Easy one more gift, when they passed up Reggie Bush in the April draft. Even during the team's horrific pre-season performances, season tickets were snatched up until they were all gone, and for the first time ever, the Saints had a sold-out season before the first game had been played. Many fans didn't have permanent housing; but at least they had their season tickets. We wanted to save our Saints...who knew it would be the Saints that would end up saving us? 

The Saints shocked everyone and won their first two road games; and so they headed into a rare Monday Night Football appearance with a 2-0 record, to face division rivals, the Atlanta Falcons. The entire day leading up to that evening's kickoff was like living in the movie "It's A Wonderful Life". It looked like Mardi Gras Day. Costumes, face paint, dancing in the streets, and police trying to deal with the enormous crowds...but something was different. Different from any celebration New Orleans has hosted. It wasn't the usual drunken party or tailgating we'd all experienced so many times in the past. It was electric. New Orleans knows how to throw a party, and we're known for our Southern hospitality; but this night, we threw a party for ourselves. It was a culmination of football success and personal triumphs that brought over 70,000 of us to this point in time. We knew we deserved it, we knew we'd earned it, and we all basked in the glory that we helped create. We had, as individuals and as a city, overcome such enormous odds, and in our own over-the-top fashion we were giving ourselves a pat on the back, embracing the light at the end of a still very long tunnel, thanking God we'd made it this far, and looking forward to becoming whole again. That's what the day was about, we wanted our much loved New Orleans Saints to be victorious, of course; but would have taken a loss to the Falcons in good stride, and commended our boys for putting on a great show. But when we all took our seats in the Dome and on our living room couches; that Divine intervention occurred. 

Less than one minute into the game, the Saints blocked a punt and ran it into the end zone for a touchdown. 70,000 screaming fans in the Superdome cheered, hugged, cried, and looked on in awe as our blessed Saints became "America's Team". We forgot about FEMA, and mold, and overpriced contractors; and for over 3 hours we all forgot about the water lines we'd become identified by. We reveled in our Saints' success and in our own success. It was a rebirth. It was in that moment the Superdome became a symbol of rebuilding, renewal, and most importantly of hope. The reopening of the Superdome proved to all of us that moving forward and starting anew was possible. It seemed like an unobtainable goal a year earlier; but there we were, back inside and back to rooting for the home team. And after the domination of what was seen as one of the best teams in the NFC, it made you wonder if the flood waters took the curse out of the city with them. Maybe, in some cosmic way, they actually cleansed the city, even if just for one night. Steve Young, former Superbowl winning quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, said during his live broadcast, that something had in fact happened in that stadium. He said it was more than just loud in the Superdome, it was something indescribable and unforgettable. He said what we all knew, there was a feeling in that building, an emotional outpouring, a spark, magic. 

Since that unforgettable night, the New Orleans Saints have continued to personify on the field, what New Orleanians are accomplishing off of it. They've won some big games, and gotten right back up after the few times they've stumbled. They're forging ahead and beating the odds; and so are we. The Saints have secured the second seed and a bye week for the first time in franchise history. That injured free agent quarterback other teams gave up on, Drew Brees, threw for more yards than any other quarterback in the league, and was the runner-up for the NFL's MVP award. The new coach who few of us had ever heard of from Dallas, Sean Payton, was just named the NFL Coach of the Year. Houston's gift to the Saints, Reggie Bush, was nominated for Rookie of the Year, in a draft class that has proven to be one of the best in recent history. Another nominee for that award, Marques Colston, who was taken second to last in the overall draft, has broken club rookie records, even though he missed four games due to an injury. They have all ready won the NFC South division and are looking ahead to a divisional playoff game this weekend against Philadelphia. And just a word to Eagle's fans, if you thought it was loud during "The Atlanta Game" ain't seen nothin' yet! If wanting it more than anyone else is all it takes to get to the Superbowl; the Saints will go all the way. Who knows where this team will take us. Chicago? Dare we say, Miami? In the past, visions of the Saints in the Superbowl, were something you only suffered after taking too many pain killers following a root canal. But this is a different city, and these are definitely different Saints. 

So let us dream, let us enjoy the sweet smell of success. Why not this team? Why not this year? After all, how often are we in the second week of the playoffs and not all ready looking ahead to the following year, and hoping maybe a winning season awaits the most loyal fans in the NFL. Isn't nice to finally have someone other than hometown hero Peyton Manning to root for in the post season? Maybe Az-Hakim dropping the ball in the 2001 wild-card playoff game, won't be remembered as the biggest play in Saints history. This has been called a team of destiny, and who knows, maybe it is; but whether the Saints make it to the Promise Land or not, they've lifted an entire city and given us some much needed joy. They have embodied the attitude we all need to move forward. So if you're not a fan yet, jump on the bandwagon, we'll make room. So show you have FAITH, hang out your fleur-de-lis flag, and put on your best black and gold; it's the playoffs after all, where winners advance and losers go home. I truly believe this team will continue to move ahead. But whatever the future may hold, I want to thank the Saints for an amazing year and for valiantly playing and winning when no one thought they could or would. Who knew a football team could mean so much to so many? And who would have believed that the team to do such wondrous things would be OUR New Orleans Saints. 

Brandy welcomes feedback at Include permission to post in your letter, if you are willing.