I’m certain everyone by now has heard the stories of how the New Orleans Saints stood tall for a community beaten down and were the one beacon of light during the darkest times of our fair city’s history. However, not much has been said of the impact of that magical season on those outside of the city proper.
This is my story.
As a soldier in the United States Army, I was stationed far away from my hometown when Katrina ravaged and destroyed the home I grew up in, permanently displacing my parents and the majority of my extended family to Baton Rouge, LA.
While my family was rebuilding and reuniting, I was preparing to deploy to Iraq, unable to help at one of the most difficult times of all of our lives. I took my leave immediately before my deployment into theater and visited my family and the devastation of the city I loved my entire life.
I have often told individuals who have asked about the destruction post-Katrina that the best way to describe it would be for them to take everything that was important to them, pile it up in the dirt, pour muddy water on it, allow it to sit and mold for a month, snap a picture, and then lay out thousands of copies of that picture all around them.
Then they would have a small taste of what our communities have endured.
Soon after, I left for Iraq to help a country in need, while at the same time leaving behind my family and home in need. There really isn’t a word to describe those kinds of feelings, but when you think things cannot possibly get worse, they do just that.
Shortly after starting my deployment, I found myself facing a divorce, financial hardships, and knowing that I would be seeing my two children sparingly for the rest of my life. I dealt with all of this while, at the same time, conducting my combat missions in Iraq, taking cover from enemy fire, and performing my military duties in situations that tested the limits of my stress as well as patience.
There are words that describe this: utterly, hopelessly dejected.
It was when things were at their lowest, and I was on the verge of a true breakdown, that I found hope. Hope did not come in the form of a vacation, or in my wife of the time coming back to me, or even in the support of my family.
Hope came on a Monday night football game that saw the Saints come home to a city they stood behind and who loved them like no other fan loves their team.
When Steve Gleason knifed through the Falcons' offensive line, hammering their punt to the turf, I immediately forgot where I was or everything that I had been through up to that point.
I screamed louder than I had ever thought possible—loud enough that anyone but those in the Dome that night would’ve thought I was dying.
I spent every week the remainder of the season dreaming of Sunday. No matter how bad things got, how many missions I went on, or how miserable things were at home, Sunday was always just right. The Saints carried me on their backs through my tour.
I was just as upset for them to fall short in the Championship Game as any of the players could have been, for they truly deserved it—we all did. At the same time, though, I felt an amazing amount of pride.
Here was a team beaten down and written off, representing a community much the same. They took adversity and punched it dead in the mouth.
By the end of that amazing season, there wasn’t a person in the country that didn’t feel the words spoken on every Saint and fan’s lips: “We believe.”
I finished my time in Iraq and came home with a new sense of purpose and (dare I say it?) swagger. I’ve since become very successful in my career, righted the ship so to speak, and I can honestly say it was the Saints that did it for me.
Now here I am once again in Iraq, patiently awaiting our team to kick off the 2010 season. Many have opined that this is their year—that the final pieces are in place, and the Saints will bring the Vince Lombardi Trophy to the Big Easy.
While analysts and armchair quarterbacks alike make their predictions of where they will fall, I sit back and reflect on more difficult times, and all I can say is this: “I believe.”