Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Feeling Like Winners. Finally.

I'm not normally the biggest fan of professional sports, but for Monday's New Orleans Saints game on Monday Night Football I just had to make an exception. Boy am I glad I did.

Even if you didn't watch it, you've probably heard that the Saints methodically dismantled the Atlanta Falcons 23-3. Any home crowd would enjoy that, of course. But as I have gotten to know this city better, I have slowly came to realize just how much this team means to the local fans, despite the fact that it's usually been a pretty piss-poor team, with a dreadful win record. Despite it, or maybe because of it. This city just loves scrappy underdogs, and that's what this team has been for most of its existence. Hell, that's what the city has been for most of its existence.

And of course, Monday was the first time the Superdome was open to the public since the last desperate straggler staggered out during those days of horror a year ago to board a bus going God knows where. Many, many of those same people walked back in Monday evening, filled I am sure with a flood of emotion I cannot even begin to imagine. It was so important to the people of New Orleans to get the Dome, which had become a global symbol of misery and failure, cleaned up and reopened. It was an essential act of cleansing and renewal that would have been hugely powerful, win or lose the game.

And of course, we won. The moment that seemed to redeem everything, that had me gasping with shock as I watched on TV, is shown in the photo. To recap, Atlanta had won the toss and elected to receive the opening kickoff, but had been unable to move the ball through three downs. Ninety seconds into the game and still deep in their own territory they had to punt, and one Saints defender blocked the punt, above, knocked the ball down and back right into the endzone, where another Saint fell on it. Saints touchdown.

I repeat, ninety seconds. The paper reports that Superdome staff -- the old hands, the beer vendors, the security cops, the ticket takers -- say they have never seen anything that came close to the volcanic eruption of jubilation when the crowd saw that play.

As usual, the Times-Picayune's Chris Rose tells it better than I could. Read it all, it's a pleasure.

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