this is a discussion within the Saints Community Forum; Saints 2007: Gotta Believe There's never been a season in Saints history that's provided this much hope Brady Aymond firstname.lastname@example.org Hope is a dangerous thing. Hope can drive a man insane. Morgan Freeman's character spoke those words in the movie ...
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Saints 2007: Gotta Believe
Saints 2007: Gotta Believe
There's never been a season in Saints history that's provided this much hope
Hope is a dangerous thing. Hope can drive a man insane. Morgan Freeman's character spoke those words in the movie Shawshank Redemption. And New Orleans Saints fans can relate
Since the birth of the franchise in 1967, the start of every season has been filled with hope. And as the Saints enter their 41st season tonight in Indianapolis, once again, hope springs eternal. But there's a difference this time.
There's a bit of reality to this hope thing.
The devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina on Aug. 29, 2005, still resonates throughout the city of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast.
Houses remain flattened. Trash remains piled on street corners.
Slowly, surely, though, the city is coming back. But the beginning was ominous at best.
As bad as Katrina was, it was coupled with a 3-13 season by the Saints.
The one thing that had always given the city of New Orleans and the state of Louisiana hope was caught in its own storm.
"There just wasn't a lot of excitement," said Chad Schexnayder, a lifelong resident of New Orleans and UL graduate. "Everybody wanted to bolt, nobody wanted to be in New Orleans anymore. The team was talking about leaving. Players on the team hated each other. The people in New Orleans were stressed.
"There was nothing positive to look to for any kind of inspiration."
And then came 2006. The Saints made wholesale changes, hoping to turn things around and give a city, a region and a state some hope. And the foundation for change began when Sean Payton was brought in to take over as head coach.
Payton promptly took a chance on Drew Brees, who was coming off shoulder surgery and on the verge of being benched in San Diego. The Saints then grabbed Heisman Trophy winner Reggie Bush from USC with the second pick in the NFL draft.
Hope was returning to the Crescent City.
But for all the excitement, the new regime's start matched the recovery from Katrina - slow. The Saints went just 1-3 in the preseason.
When the games started to count, though, they got hot.
Back-to-back road wins over Cleveland and Green Bay gave the Saints a 2-0 start heading into their return to the Superdome for Monday Night Football against Atlanta.
"If I never go to another Saints game again, my life is complete," Baldwin's Marilyn Burgess said of the Sept. 25 home opener last season. "That was, without a doubt, the most emotional game I've ever been a part of."
The Saints thoroughly dominated the Falcons and star quarterback Michael Vick, 23-3, before a national audience.
Outside the Superdome, the city was still in shambles, but inside the recovery had begun.
"You couldn't have asked for a better start," Schexnayder said. "It's a big mental thing for the city. If the Saints are doing good, you have something to be proud of. You may not be proud of your local government or your state government or FEMA, but you have something to be proud of every Monday.
"It's just something about the Saints. It doesn't matter if you're an LSU fan and you hate Tulane, or you're a Tulane fan and you hate LSU. You put them in the 'Dome and they're all cheering for the Saints. It's something that brings the city together, black/white, Tulane/LSU, Jesuit/Holy Cross. It doesn't matter on Sundays."
In this age of overpriced athletes and snobby superstars, the Saints' start in 2006 had given the city the biggest thing it could - hope.
"There's no doubt we all knew what it meant," Thomas said. "You couldn't help but know, it was all around you. Everywhere we went, people would come up to us and thank us for giving them something positive.
"That's what it's all about, giving back to the community. They do so much to support us that it's only fair for us to be there for them when they're down."
The rebuilding continues
As the state continues to recover from Katrina, the Saints enter the 2007 season with the highest expectations ever placed on the franchise.
"It's unbelievable," Burgess said. " I just think we are so loaded with talent this year. I just think it's nuts.
"I'm excited and ready. But it doesn't matter to me if they're 1-15 or 15-1 - I love them. I'm gloating right now because I've been through the bad seasons. It's a fun time to be a Saints fan."
For the first time, the Saints have the backing of the national media. Long referred to as the "Aints" or the "Same old Saints," the Saints are NFC favorites in some publications and even picked to win the Super Bowl by one magazine.
"There's no way in a million years did I ever think I'd see the day that Sports Illustrated picked the Saints to win the Super Bowl," Schexnayder said. "But you can hear it all over the media. Everyone is predicting the Saints to have a great season."
As a lifelong fan of a team that's routinely let its fans down, Schexnayder said he's taking the preseason predictions with cautious optimism.
"Absolutely, it's guarded optimism," Schexnayder said. "We always hope for the best, but expect the worst. They've lost a lot of fans over the years - a lot of the older fans just got tired of waiting. Generations have gone without a championship.
"But it's like that in a lot of cities. If the Saints win, they'll be back. And we'll welcome them back. When you've got 70,000 people screaming and hollering for the Saints in the Superdome, you can't tell the loyal fan from the bandwagonner."
2006 is in the past
Payton has stressed all offseason that the Saints will get nowhere in 2007 if they continue to relive the historic season of 2006, which ended in a 39-14 loss to Chicago in the franchise's first NFC Championship game appearance.
To further make his point, Payton held a mock jazz funeral at the team's training facility in Metairie. Players gathered and bid a fond farewell to the memories of 2006.
Replica items of Payton's Coach of the Year award and other trophies the Saints won throughout the season were buried, a symbol that 2006 was in the past.
"We have to move on," Saints wide receiver and former Opelousas High standout Devery Henderson said. "As much fun as it was, it's not going to help us this year. It's a whole new year, teams are different and the league is different.
"That's something Coach Payton has really talked about all offseason. We can't live in the past, we have to look forward to the future."
That message hits home in New Orleans, where residents are trying hard to forget the past and looking forward to a bright future, no matter how bleak it appears at times.
"Unless you've been here, you really have no idea what it's like," Schexnayder said. "A while back a guy I know was thinking about taking a job down here and his wife asked him if the city was still under water. A lot of people still have no idea. "It's going to take longer than anybody anticipates. The Superdome was a good place to start the rebuilding."
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