In its 43 year history the New Orleans Saints had never been much of a threat in the NFL. As a life-long resident of the state, I can tell you from personal experience that the Saints were, for the most part, a joke, an aside mentioned in discussions about The Big Easy. That’s all, nothing else. They were never taken seriously. Not ever, at least not in my childhood. That was, of course, until this season. Jokes no longer, they won the NFC playoffs and are heading to the Superbowl in two short weeks.
What many of you—and I'm speaking specifically to those of you who have no real concept of Louisianans and our past love/hate relationship with the team— may not understand is that the Saints being in the Superbowl is unbelievable. No, not unbelievable, more like unfathomable—unimaginable, incomprehensible.
We are headed to the Superbowl. That’s a statement akin to ‘I won the Lottery’ or ‘I just made the best seller’s list.’ It’s a dream, a fantasy, an inconceivable notion that has made many around me today mutter ‘Saints in the Superbowl? I guess the apocalypse is next.’
The thing is, for many of us, last night’s win was more than a team victory. Last night, New Orleans showed the world that though she has been battered and bruised, she was never broken. Katrina swooped in, the levees broke and the city became a tragedy, the paradigm of something most Americans watch happening worlds away, far removed from their pleasant realties. Something like this, just simply didn’t happen in America. In most of the world’s view— those who have no concept of the city’s way of life, her people, her culture, her history, her spirit— New Orleans was beaten. Her residents fled, many died. Childhood memories were destroyed, eradicated from tangible view. The vilest among her children seized the opportunity to wage war on the police, on the city itself, all in the name of brutality and indifference. People were murdered, some were raped, some left for dead in hospitals, some forgotten altogether. People died because the levees could stand no longer, because that laughable stereotype of ‘Louisiana politics’ was more than a rumor and our leaders had failed us, had failed the city.
Celebrities came in—some of them natives of the city. Some demanded help, demanded that rebuilding take place immediately, demanding to be heard, all the while trudging through thigh-high water with a film crew following them to document their ‘noble’ actions. There was a telethon, meant to help the rebuilding, used for some celebrities to cease a perfect PR moment, others to attack our witless president. Whatever the reason, whatever agenda initiated the Celebrity Do Gooders, the country came together, supported those made homeless, raised money for food, clothing, shelter while our state government began rebuilding. Rebuilding the levees exactly as they had been—preventing nothing should the city endure another storm of Katrina’s magnitude. Garbage piled up, crime rose, horrors occurred and capitalist in the city began giving ‘Katrina Tours,’ pointing out to hapless tourist the atrocities the city’s children endured, all for $25 a pop.
Still, among the returning residents, among the true city dwellers, her true children, there was a pride that would not depart. There was a burning love for the city that could not be squelched by river water, by violence, by the forgetfulness of their fellow countrymen. A love that showed itself last night. A love that could not be silence in the aftermath of the storm, could not be shaken by opportunist who lost their faith. That love became words, those word, a roaring cry. It said ‘we’re still here.’ It shouted, ‘we are survivors.’ It screamed ‘we believe.’
A comforting breeze came flowing through the Quarter, down into the mouth of the city, fluttering the trees Uptown and shaking tents at The Market. The city endured, as she has always and her children, the crowing mass of them, screamed out in victory, in the resounding bellows of power and mesmerizing joy last night.
It was this belief, not only in a football team that has made possible the renewal of New Orleans. It is this unyielding faith in the city, in her children that has endured. Throw water onto her belly and New Orleans will saunter away, unfazed. Knock her down and she will show you how a real lady handles herself. Believe right a long with her and you’ll see the meaning of true, unyielding fortitude, the heart of enviable strength.