The New Orleans Saints have already wonWritten by Dave Woolford | | email@example.com
We don’t even have to go beyond the two team’s nicknames to illustrate the romanticizing that surrounds the Sentimental Bowl, or Super Bowl, on Feb. 7 in Miami.
Saints versus Colts. Holiness versus hoofs.
This is a story that has been written before a rough draft, a movie that has preceded the preview.
In one corner, displaying a logo that represents protective footwear for a horse, is the Indianapolis Colts, who won the Super Bowl three years ago, defeating Chicago’s Bears. They’re led by quarterback Peyton Manning, who recently was named the NFL’s Most Valuable Player for an unprecedented fourth time. He’s arguably the best quarterback in NFL history.
In the opposite corner we have the former “Aints”, at least that’s what it said on the bags fans wore over their heads at games while their team got sacked on a regular basis.
The Saints’ logo is the fleur-de-lis, its literal French translation, “lily flower.” Let’s leave it at that.
New Orleans has never been to the Super Bowl in its 43-year NFL existence. This was only the ninth winning campaign in franchise history.
The Saints’ quarterback is no Peyton Manning, but maybe Drew Brees is better. He completed an NFL record 70.6 percent of his passes this season and in 2008 fell just 15 yards short of Dan Marino’s single-season NFL record passing total of 5,084 yards.
But the crux of this comparison has to do with the city of New Orleans itself, and its recovery from the devastation it incurred from Hurricane Katrina in August 2005.
The Saints and the Superdome have served as a rallying point for the city, much of which is situated below sea level. Katrina tried to sink it further, maybe forever, flooding about 80 [per cent] of New Orleans. It sent many of its residents to last-chance shelters such as the Superdome, which, too, was almost totally destroyed by Katrina. It’s an endearing story of survival and revival.
Lance Moore, one of the leading pass catchers in UT history, was part of that revival as a member of the Saints’ practice team in 2006 when the team had to play in other facilities, while the Superdome was undergoing a $200 million restoration. The Saints had left New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina and had already moved twice — to San Jose, Calif., and then to San Antonio, Texas, — when Moore joined them.
“We practiced in the Alamodome, but they had house shows, cheerleading competition and other things so we couldn’t always practice there,” Moore said. “We also practiced at a nearby high school, but we got kicked out of there occasionally when they had volleyball or other events. Our locker-room was inside the baseball dugout and sometimes we had to do our walk-through in the school parking lot. You would never believe it was the NFL. We had no hot tub and just one single-person whirlpool. We certainly didn’t have things other NFL teams had. No one liked it, but you had to go with the flow.”
The Saints played four games in Baton Rouge, three in the Alamodome, and even a home game against the New York Giants in Giants Stadium, the proceeds of which went to Hurricane Katrina victims.
“Most definitely it was a crazy year,’’ said Moore, who led the nation in receptions in 2003, averaging 8.56 catches per game. “It’s been a wild experience but I’m getting to play football in the NFL and that has always been my dream.”
Moore caught one pass for five yards in the Saints’ awe-inspiring 31-28 overtime victory against the Minnesota Vikings in the NFC championship game on Jan. 17 and has 17 catches for 164 yards and two touchdowns this season. Even Colts’ rookie coach Jim Caldwell got caught up in the Saints’ most meaningful inspirational victory before a crowd of more than 71,000 in the Superdome. “I think it’s a great story,’’ Caldwell, who used to recruit New Orleans heavily as a coach at Southern Illinois, told Bob Kravitz of The Indianapolis Star. “That region was absolutely devastated, and [the Saints] brought a lot of pride back, a lot of civic pride. The enthusiasm that you could see surrounding that team is incredible. You saw the pictures of Bourbon Street and Canal Street after that win and it was absolutely unbelievable.”
If ever a city, if ever the jammed-packed Superdome, if ever civic pride needed an inspirational triumph, it was to materialize against Minnesota. This was for the parish of St. Tammany to the north, St. Bernard to the east, Plaquemines to the south and Jefferson to south and west. The Big Easy had reason to be a little more at ease.
The local newspaper, the Times-Picayune, unleashed rare biased behavior with its Sunday morning banner headline stating: “Our Team. Our Town. Our Time.”
Sorry, Colts. Destiny has chosen its darling and it’s not you. You’ll probably win the game, and if you do just know that your opponent is already a winner so there will be no loser.
“It’s surreal,” Brees told The Washington Post’s Sally Jenkins. “Coming here four years ago, post-Katrina … It’s unbelievable, it’s unbelievable. You can draw so many parallels between our team and our city. In reality we’ve had to lean on each other in order to survive. The city is on its way to recovery. We’ve used the strength and resilience of our fans to go out and play with confidence on Sundays. It’s been one step at a time, and we’ve had to play through plenty of adversity. Just like this town has.”