Brandy On New Orleans

Brandy Pigeon

Out - But Not Down

By Brandy Pigeon

Chicago - There were still a few minutes remaining on the game clock; but Saints fans everywhere knew it was over. Our dream season, our chance at the Super Bowl, our football filled Sundays... all memories now. As I stood in the frigid, overcast halls of Soldier Field, I did all that I could to keep from crying. I didn't just want to cry for myself; but for my team and my city. My heart ached for the players that I knew were better than their final appearance had shown, and I knew the city I'd left two days earlier would be full of people feeling as low, even if not as cold, as I did. While walking what seemed like ten miles, from the stadium to our hotel, I reflected on what was, and what could have been. I tried to focus on the wonderful things we'd enjoyed for weeks leading up to this moment; the moments that would forever be imbedded in my memory, and look ahead to what certainly seems to be bright future for the Saints and for New Orleans. As I walked into the wind with snow pelting my frozen, tear streaked, face; I couldn't help but smile. And once again, I realized, that this football team had managed to do what it had done so many times before; even in this grey city, on this dreary day, after a painful loss, this team managed to bring a smile, and an unbridled sense of hope to my heart. I was so thankful for what they'd given all of us, so happy for what they had accomplished, and so proud of each of them for giving so much to so many. I realized after forty years in the NFL, they truly did live up to their name... they were Saints.

Sunday morning, before the game, held much promise. Saints fans were EVERYWHERE! A crowd of at least 500 hundred black and gold clad fans had gathered outside a downtown hotel; so my party and I decided to join the club. We sang, danced, and recalled all the great plays that had lead us to this place in time. It seemed like we were destined to go all the way; like this group of Saints faithful, not to mention the throngs at home pulling for this Cinderella story, couldn't be denied the chance to play for the top prize. And then, while standing there shivering, I bumped into the two guys I mentioned in my previous column, who had sat in front of me at every Saints game in the Superdome. Chris and Bert... that's right, I got their names finally, were a sign, I presumed. A sign that more miracles awaited all of us on this game day. A marching brass band lead the huge crowd a half mile to stadium, where the party continued until kickoff.

By the third quarter, I was pretty sure the miracle I predicted wasn't going to happen. After the fourth turnover committed by the Saints offense, I was certain. There were moments of great joy for Saints fans during the game; but the moments of disappointment outnumbered them on this particular day, unfortunately. I wished we could start over, have a second chance, a do-over. But it wasn't to be; not now, not here. These Saints and their fans were not accustomed to playing games outdoors and were definitely not used to doing anything when the temperature was below twenty degrees. It didn't seem to matter that we were the number one offense in the league - sleet, snow, and frozen ground don't care about statistics like that. The only thing more relentless than the arctic winds, was the heckling from the Bears fans. The Katrina and FEMA jokes had been worn out for many of us before we ever stepped foot in Chicago; and mixed with the loss, the whole thing became a bit unbearable. So we headed out of Soldier Field; but through the harassments, the cold, and the final score, we didn't hang our heads. We knew our team had overcome huge odds to come this far, and so had we. As the Saints organization was moving forward, so was our city... and we all knew both would continue to do so.

Monday evening,while sitting in the airport, waiting to board our flight home, I was surrounded by at least 100 people who had been through the same weekend I had just experienced. There we were, all Saints fans who had come to cheer for the team, and we'd all suffered the same defeat. Yet, no one had a bad word to say about the Saints. We all just talked about how great the season was and how exciting the next one would be. Looking ahead - that seems to be the new way of thinking for New Orleanians. Our team has taught us all how get up and keep fighting. How to win when no one thinks you can, and how to brush off a loss and keep moving forward with your eye on a specific goal. We all talked about how much we missed our city and our loved ones, even though we'd only been apart from both of them for a weekend. We had a renewed sense of pride for New Orleans and couldn't wait to return to warmer weather, great friends and family, and the way of life we loved so much. Don't get me wrong, Chicago had beautiful architecture, delicious pizza, and great shopping; but it wasn't home. The character, the sounds, and the overall ambiance just wasn't there. It was a nice place to visit; but we all agreed, there was no place like home.

I read in the paper, that after a three hour delay at the Chicago airport, the plane carrying the New Orleans Saints landed in New Orleans at almost one o'clock in the morning. There, in the rain and the cold, thousands stood holding signs saying "Thank you!" and "Bless You, Boys" as the players and coaches got off the plane. I imagined how wonderful that must have made the whole team feel. They couldn't have guessed that after a loss, a three hour delay, and amidst a downpour, that there would be two much less two thousand fans waiting to congratulate them. But there they were; soaking wet and tired, they chanted "Who Dat" and sang "When the Saints Go Marchin' In" in a chorus-like fashion. That's New Orleans for you, I suppose. The greatest fans in the world, praising their team for all they'd accomplished, and thanking them for helping kick-start the city's recovery process. This team has brought national attention to a region that could have been forgotten. They have helped keep people across the country focused on the work that remains to be done. It will take time, money, and a lot of elbow grease to get back to normal; but we've all ready begun to make it happen. We're fixing our homes and businesses, we're getting the roads repaired, and schools up and running, and having the Saints lead the way to a new beginning, is a blessing.

In two weeks I'll be pulling for New Orleans' son, Peyton Manning, and the Indianapolis Colts, to win the Super Bowl. In some way, that would still feel like a local victory. But watching the big game this year will be extra special; because this time saying "Maybe next year" will actually mean something. This time, it seems like a real possibility not just a fantasy. The wait for next season's football kickoff will seem longer than ever; but I'm certain it will be well worth it. So for now, I'd just like to thank this year's Saints for so much joy and wish them much success next season. So enjoy your time off, you've earned it, and know that we'll be back in the Superdome before you know it, cheering you on through another amazing run to football glory. We love you and anxiously await the 2007 season... which we all hope ends with a Black and Gold Super Bowl!!!

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