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NFL: Saints' super success couldn't happen to a nicer bunch of people

this is a discussion within the Saints Community Forum; NFL: Saints' super success couldn't happen to a nicer bunch of people Column By STEVE WHITWORTH The New Orleans Saints’ victory in Super Bowl XLIV showed how sports still could be a force for good in this country. If you ...

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Old 02-22-2010, 08:50 PM   #1
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NFL: Saints' super success couldn't happen to a nicer bunch of people

Column By STEVE WHITWORTH

The New Orleans Saints’ victory in Super Bowl XLIV showed how sports still could be a force for good in this country.

If you ever wanted to see how a sports team’s success could revitalize a city and an entire region, you should have been in New Orleans for Super Bowl Sunday.

I was fortunate enough to be there, completely by coincidence. My wife, Jill, and I had booked a weekend stay in New Orleans months ago, long before anyone had much hope the Saints would be playing in the NFL championship game that Sunday. We were planning to enjoy some of the Crescent City’s fine restaurants, nightlife and tourist attractions. Finding ourselves caught up in a Super Bowl celebration was an unexpected bonus.

I was rooting for the Saints throughout the NFL playoffs, mainly because I lived in New Orleans while working there for United Press International in 1985 and 1986. During that 1985 season, I was the UPI beat writer covering the Saints, and even though the team wasn’t very good that year, I could see how much they meant to the fans, the city and the whole state.

New Orleans and Louisiana in general is football country, and Saints fans had suffered a long time. Since the Saints came into the league in 1967, their winning seasons were few and far between. In all those years, they had advanced to the NFC Championship Game only one other time.

Then came Hurricane Katrina in 2005, and the Saints were forced to play all their games on the road that season because of the extensive damage to their home, the Louisiana Superdome. For awhile, it seemed the Superdome might have to be demolished and that the Saints might never return to the Big Easy.

Such concerns might seem superficial in the light of Katrina’s terrible destruction and the resulting loss of life, but not to diehard Saints fans. Many of them now say that following the Saints gave their spirits a lift during the darkest days after the hurricane and resulting flooding. And when Saints owner Tom Benson committed to keeping the Saints in New Orleans, with the Superdome restored to its former glory, the city’s residents had something to feel hopeful about.

Jill and I went to New Orleans fearing that we might find a dying city unable to recover from the terrible blow that Katrina dealt it. But even before the Saints’ success, the city’s rebirth had begun. The Superdome Complex is about to undergo major upgrades, including an adjacent Plaza Festival area, as it prepares to host the Super Bowl in 2013. And just across Canal Street from the office where I worked nearly 25 years ago, construction has begun on the New Orleans BioInnovation Center, a part of the Greater New Orleans Biosciences Economic Development District.

Throughout our five days and four nights in New Orleans, Jill and I were struck by the enthusiasm and friendliness of the people. Everyone we met was so excited about the Saints. We struck up conversations with complete strangers, several of whom had lost their homes to Katrina, who told us how much the team’s Cinderella season meant to them.

On the night before the big game, Jill and I had dinner at one of the French Quarter’s up-and-coming restaurants, the Louisiana Bistro. Its chef, Erik "Chef Mars" Mahr, used to be a photographer for the Belleville News-Democrat, and we had known each other through mutual friends. The last time I had seen him was in 1996, just before I was hired by The Telegraph and he began attending the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y. Chef Mars since has worked with some of the biggest names in cooking, including Emeril Lagasse, and his work at the Louisiana Bistro, 337 Dauphine St., is drawing rave reviews. If you go to New Orleans, I highly recommend eating there.

Despite being busy that Saturday night, Chef Mars greeted Jill and I, fed us a spectacular meal and invited us to watch the Super Bowl with him at a bar on Bourbon Street. We readily accepted. On Sunday, we met him at Jackson Square and enjoyed the Krewe of Barkus dog parade through the streets of the French Quarter. Then, it was time for the big game.

Watching the game at Fat Tuesday’s, it was strange to see Bourbon Street nearly empty during Carnival season. Everyone who had been throwing beads from the balconies before the game and those in the crowd who had been catching them on the street below now were inside, riveted to the TVs. The Saints fans grew quiet as the Indianapolis Colts took an early 10-0 lead. At halftime, the Saints still trailed, 10-6, and as our little group walked outside for some fresh air, Chef Mars remarked how the city’s tension was palpable.

Of course, the second half saw the Saints take the lead, fall behind one more time, then rally on their way to the historic victory. When New Orleans cornerback Tracy Porter intercepted a Peyton Manning pass in the fourth quarter and returned it for a touchdown to provide the final margin of 31-17, the party began. And when time ran out and the victory was official, the French Quarter — and indeed, the entire city — burst into joyous celebration.

Amid the revelry, I saw a number of people in tears. After being disappointed in their team for so many years, and after the hardships of Katrina, they could not contain their emotions. But these were tears of joy, and soon replaced by smiles. In fact, I can’t remember seeing so many happy, smiling faces in one place anywhere in my life.

We joined the throng in the French Quarter for a couple of hours after the game. Everyone was hugging, exchanging high-fives and breaking into the ubiquitous "Who Dat?" chant. And while some cities have seen rowdy fans get out of control during championship celebrations, all we saw was pure joy and jubilation. We never saw a police officer have to step in anywhere, and we never saw any trouble all night. As the people of New Orleans had been telling us all weekend, the whole city was happy and showing its best side.

We left New Orleans on the morning of the team’s triumphant parade through the city, which organizers estimate drew 800,000 people. Never was there a bigger celebration in a city that is known for hosting some of the world’s biggest parties every Mardi Gras.

I’m not suggesting that the Saints’ Super Bowl victory has solved all of New Orleans’ problems. There still is much rebuilding to do, and the city still has many issues that need attention.

What I am suggesting is that the positive publicity resulting from this game — it was the most-watched event in TV history, and millions of people all over the world saw New Orleans full of happy people having the time of their lives — and the feelings of pride it gave to a city and an entire state just prove that sports still can be a force for good in the world.

Jill and I will never forget that magical weekend in one of America’s most beautiful and unique cities. And to all our friends there, old and new, we send our best wishes that this thrilling moment will mark a real turning point in New Orleans’ comeback. It couldn’t happen to a nicer bunch of people.

NFL: Saints' super success couldn't happen to a nicer bunch of people | saints, super, nicer - Sports - The Telegraph

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Old 02-22-2010, 10:14 PM   #2
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Re: NFL: Saints' super success couldn't happen to a nicer bunch of people

Most excellent - I am amazing jelous of those of ou who were in NL for the game. I think it would have been better than being a the SB itself.
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Old 02-23-2010, 07:09 AM   #3
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Re: NFL: Saints' super success couldn't happen to a nicer bunch of people

Nice article!
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Old 02-23-2010, 09:01 AM   #4
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Re: NFL: Saints' super success couldn't happen to a nicer bunch of people

I remember thinking about losing the Saints before Benson bought them.
This song really brought that reality home.

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Old 02-24-2010, 02:07 PM   #5
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Re: NFL: Saints' super success couldn't happen to a nicer bunch of people

New Orleans really does have some great people. So do the New Orleans Saints.
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