Before the playoff game at the Superdome against the Panthers last weekend, the Saints released a video titled “It’s more than just football.”
Faith Jenkins, a Shreveport native and former prosecutor who now rules a TV courtroom, talked about watching games as a child with her grandfather. “I was told two things. The men in the black and gold were supposed to win, and don’t repeat what your grandfather said during the games,” Ms. Jenkins said.
Teams in other cities could no doubt do a similar video, with lifetime fans sharing their affection for a beloved franchise.
But for New Orleans, the connection truly is deeper. Ms. Jenkins captured the feeling perfectly: “During the toughest part of life in the city and life after Hurricane Katrina, there was a light … and a part of that light was the New Orleans Saints.”
That’s the truth. From the reopening of the Superdome and Steve Gleason’s blocked punt against the Falcons in 2006 to that year’s playoff victory over the Eagles to the Super Bowl run in 2009, the Saints gave us hope.
Ms. Jenkins describes being at the Superdome for the NFC Championship game against the Vikings. “Everyone was holding their breath,” she said. “I remember one young lady turned to a Minnesota Vikings fan, and she had tears in her eyes, and she said, ‘You have no idea what so many people in this city have been through, and you have no idea what this would mean for us.’ “
Garrett Hartley’s game-winning kick unleashed a wave of joy in New Orleans that carried us through the Super Bowl — and still lives in Saints fans. Now here we are eight years later, facing the Vikings again — this time in Minnesota — with a chance to return to the Super Bowl.
So much has changed in New Orleans’ landscape in the meantime. The city, which is celebrating its 300th anniversary, was named by The New York Times as the No. 1 city to visit in 2018. “There is no city in the world like New Orleans. Influences from Europe, the Caribbean, Latin America, Africa and indigenous peoples have made it the ultimate melting pot,” the Times said.
Hosting two playoff games in 2010 and a million fans for the Saints’ victory parade sent a message that post-Katrina New Orleans was more than ready for visitors. But our future felt more tenuous back then. There are still scars from the disaster, and the city faces serious challenges: a stubborn crime rate, entrenched poverty, a drainage system that is falling apart.
Yet in many ways New Orleans is thriving today. The announcement in November that DXC Technology will open a digital transformation center with 2,000 jobs is just one example.
This year’s Saints playoff run is more about the sheer joy of winning than an escape from rebuilding. This group has its own identity, driven by young guys experiencing the post season for the first time.
There is a bond between the team and the city that they might not even fully understand. Most of them weren’t here for the Super Bowl season. Only quarterback…