The Importance Of Sports: How The Saints Helped New Orleans To Recover

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The Importance Of Sports: How The Saints Helped New Orleans To Recover
(Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

Hurricane Katrina had just conducted a demolition derby all along the Southern Gulf Coast, and, as a parting present, she dumped her waters into the "Big Easy", "The City That Never Slept", the city of New Orleans, LA.

The Louisiana Superdome, the home of the NFL's New Orleans Saints, had been used as a "shelter of last resort", and had suffered millions of dollars in damage, both from the storm, and the many New Orleanians who had made the stadium their home for over three days.

Katrina's winds had ripped a hole into the roof and water was puddled on the fifty yard line.

Many wondered if New Orleans would ever recover. Others were sure that their city would rise like a wounded giant, down but not out.

Since the Superdome wasn't an option, the Saints' home opener against the New York Giants had to be played at Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J.

The remainder of the Saints' home games were split between the Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas, and Louisiana State University's Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge, LA.

The Saints had set up practice facilities in San Antonio, and Saints owner Tom Benson even reportedly considered relocating the team permanently to San Antonio.

However, he decided to return the team to his hometown of New Orleans after the end of the 2005 season.

The Saints 3-13 record was only salt on the wound of New Orleans. When the city had needed them the most they had lost, and lost badly.

Head coach Jim Haslett was fired, and quarterback Aaron Brooks was released following the horrendous season.

Former Cowboys assistant Sean Payton was hired as the Saints new head coach, and the team then went about the business of finding themselves a quarterback. On the free agent market, former San Diego Charger Drew Brees was coming off of a shoulder injury, and former Minnesota Viking Daunte Culpepper was coming off of a knee injury.

In the draft, former Texas Longhorn Vince Young and former USC Trojan Matt Leinhart could be taken with the Saints' pick, which was the second overall in the draft.

To make a long story short, the Saints signed Brees, and the Dolphins signed Culpepper. Nearly one year later Brees was in Honolulu, Hawaii to play in the Pro Bowl after driving the Saints to the NFC Championship Game, and Culpepper was still in Miami.

When draft day came, the Houston Texans, in control with the first overall pick, made a surprise pick and took North Carolina State's Mario Williams, which dropped USC's Heisman Trophy winning running back Reggie Bush right into the Saints' laps.

Bush was immediately a Black and Gold fan favorite, and many anticipated the day when they would first see the athletic Bush in a Saints uniform for the first time.

Now, fast forward a few months until Sept. 25, 2006. The Saints were 2-0 after winning against the Cleveland Browns in the season opener in Cleveland, and then against Brett Favre and the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field in Green Bay.

The Superdome was ready, the lights were on, football was about to formally return to the Big Easy.

Fans who had tailgated all day outside the Dome poured in when the doors were open, and the noise never died down. The Monday night game was to be nationally televised, and this city was going to show their love for football once more.

After a performance by the rock bands U2 and Green Day, former President George H.W. Bush came on to the field to flip the coin. The Falcons got the ball first.

Ninety seconds into the game, Michael Koenen stood back and prepared to punt the ball away. The ball was snapped and Saints special teams guru Steve Gleason charged down and middle.

As he dove, his fingers knocked the ball back to the turf. Saints defensive back Curtis Deloatch scooped the ball up, and brought it in for the touchdown (a video of the play can be seen here).

That year, the Saints went all the way to Chicago and the NFC Championship Game before losing it to Da Bears.

That night, the Saints returned to New Orleans, and as they left the airport, adults and kids alike stood out in the midnight drizzle and cheered on the team that they loved so much; for this team had won, and they had won when the city needed it the most.

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