this is a discussion within the Saints Community Forum; NEW ORLEANS — The neighborhood around Finn McCool's Irish Pub here is still pocketed with water-wrecked homes and abandoned buildings. Those are scars from the 2005 floods. But for a few hours each week, the struggles vanish and the bar ...
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|12-18-2009, 12:59 PM||#1|
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NEW ORLEANS — The neighborhood around Finn McCool's Irish Pub here is still pocketed with water-wrecked homes and abandoned buildings. Those are scars from the 2005 floods.
But for a few hours each week, the struggles vanish and the bar is the epicenter of a riotous celebration of the New Orleans Saints NFL team and their 13-0 record this season.
"I've lived here 20 years and I've never seen anything like it," co-owner Stephen Patterson said. The bar gets so crowded that dozens of patrons spill outside and listen to the game on their car radios, he said.
The Saints historic season has sparked a citywide euphoria that has spread well beyond football fans and is helping to revitalize a city still recovering from Hurricane Katrina's destruction. Talk of the undefeated Saints dominates nearly every coffee shop, doctor's office and store in the city. Saints T-shirts and jerseys are worn by students, surgeons, grocery clerks and store mannequins. Only one team in NFL history, the 1972 Miami Dolphins, has won every game in a season, including the Super Bowl.
Part of the jubilation over the Saints winning season stems from being such a bad team for so long, longtime fan Al D'Aquin said. The Saints were so bad in the 1970s and '80s — the team went 1-15 in 1980 — they were nicknamed the "Aints" and fans wore paper bags over their heads to games, he said.
This year's perfect season has enthused not only die-hard fans but the entire city, he said. The 2006-07 Saints also inspired the city by returning to New Orleans just a year after Katrina and going all the way to the NFC Championship game, which they lost to the Chicago Bears, D'Aquin said. This season, the energy's even higher, he said.
"It's spread this year further and deeper to more folks than I've ever seen," he said.
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The Superdome — once the symbol of the city's 2005 destruction, where thousands of residents were left stranded during Katrina — is now the center of pre-game parties that start as early as 8 a.m. and include costumes, live brass bands and grilled shrimp and crawfish cakes.
Before the Nov. 30 game against the New England Patriots, City Hall, located two blocks from the Superdome, shut down at 3 p.m. when the crowds outside got too big. For that game, 84% of the city's homes tuned in to watch. The Saints host the Dallas Cowboys in the Superdome on Saturday.
"It's been incredible," said Jerry Amato, chef and co-owner of Mother's Restaurant downtown, which has seen its weekend crowds double since the winning streak began. "It's like Mardi Gras around here every weekend."
The excitement has spread everywhere. On the fourth floor of the New Orleans Police Department, employees built a mock coffin out of cardboard boxes, where they place the emblems of opposing teams after each Saints win. The coffin is filling up.
U.S. Rep. Anh "Joseph" Cao, whose district includes New Orleans, is hoping to transport some of the enthusiasm to Washington: He's asked constituents for 200-word statements about how the Saints are impacting New Orleans and plans to read one a week on the House floor.
The prospect of the Saints playing in the Super Bowl in Miami on Feb. 7 has forced at least three Mardi Gras krewes to reschedule their parades for that day — the first time Mardi Gras parades have been moved because of the Super Bowl since 2001, when the 9/11 attacks revamped the NFL schedule, said Arthur Hardy, who publishes a Mardi Gras guide.
"It's going to be crazy but it's going to be a good crazy," he said.
New Orleans's Broadmoor neighborhood, which was destroyed by the 2005 floods, has seen its community spirit respark as the Saints began winning games, said LaToya Cantrell, a local activist. Neighbors talk to each other more, share ideas, urge each other to keep rebuilding, she said.
"This is bigger than football," Cantrell said. "It's been four years of hard work. With the Saints, we're being rejuvenated. That spirit of community is coming back."
The Saints win streak is good not just for the psyche of its residents but for its image across the country as well, as national sportswriters document the team's season, said Gabe Feldman, director of Tulane University's Sports Law Program. The city hosts the Super Bowl in 2013 and could use the refurbished image, he said.
"For the first time in a while, the story is not about hurricanes and crime and whether their people are coming back," he said. "The story is about success in New Orleans. That does a lot for the city."
The Saints parties at Finn McCool's almost weren't. The bar was destroyed under 8 feet of flood water during Katrina, causing $300,000 in damage, said Patterson, the co-owner. Underinsured, he had to re-mortgage the bar to pay for damages. While the city slowly repopulated, Finn McCool's struggled to stay open.
Now Saints games are filling the bar to capacity and returning an enthusiasm long missing from the city, Patterson said. This year, he's sending Saints T-shirts and caps as Christmas gifts to friends in his native Belfast, he said.
"We've all been through so much crap and things not going our way," he said. "It's good to feel like a winner again."
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