"Way down yonder in New Orleans, in the land of dreamy scenes, there's a garden of Eden, you know what I mean."
When I visited New Orleans for the first time, I had no sense of what to expect.
I had heard tales of irrevocable debauchery on Bourbon Street and quips that the menus of The Big Easy were an once-in-a-lifetime experience.
When I stepped out of Louis Armstrong International Airport, I felt this sudden sense of ethos that I never had before.
The air, rigorously sultry, caught my attention first.
Second were the smiles—those unforgettable smiles.
They were everywhere.
It was as if my companions and I were stuck in some sort of vortex of merriment.
We were in New Orleans.
Never have I seen what I saw in New Orleans. Never have I heard what I heard in New Orleans. And, most importantly, never have I experienced so much in a span of three days as I did in the city of New Orleans.
To find a single solitary ounce of standoffish folk in The Big Easy would be akin to finding a diamond in a rough.
The city, much like the people that inhabit its boundaries has more of it than any place else in the world.
Truly, it does.
That it is the all-encompassing.
It's that sense of feeling alive.
Four and a half years ago, the city of New Orleans was drowning—and in every sense of the word.
Once she hit, the city was covered in water—up to its chin.
Eighty percent of NOLA was blanketed by water. Flooded by the after-effects of what would turn out to be one of the worst natural disasters in the history of the United States.
In the morning of August 28, 2005, then mayor Ray Nagin ordered a citywide, mandatory evacuation.
She was on her way, screaming across the Gulf of Mexico.
Most levees, built by the Army Corps, were breached. Flooding and substantial damage ensued—a nightmare that a city, state, country and eventually world would see live on CNN.
People were trapped. They had no place to go but up. Up on the roof. There they plead for help. They made signs out of clothing. They waited.
They waited to be helped. Help couldn't answer the heed. It wasn't fast enough, and in some cases, it just didn't come at all.
Bodies floated throughout the eastern-based neighborhoods of New Orleans. People drowned in their bedrooms.
I remembered this as we took the 11 mile cab ride from Louis Armstrong International to downtown New Orleans.
Scanning each side of the city, you could tell where it happened. Some houses still sporting water stains from when she came on land and made her present felt.
It was hard to imagine what it was like.
Our Haitian cab driver told us of what it was like seeing the city engulfed in a watery hell.
He said he had no where to go.
He said his family had no place to sleep.
All of this, running through my mind, I wondered what the people of the Ninth Ward were doing now. How they endured it all and pressed on.
I was quick to correct myself. I knew how, and so did the rest of those who aren't from this metropolitan, chock-full of pluck and know-how.
She delivered unimaginable blows. She had them on the ropes—right where she wanted them.
But she didn't get that KO.
Together, a city united. Together, a city drained all those agonizing ordeals and pressed on.
Roughly 25,000 people took shelter in the Superdome and protected by the ravaging winds and the advancing water levels.
There, they waited. No water. No help. No hope.
As I stepped foot on that field on January 2, 2009, I, like her, watered up.
Imagining it all. Glancing to the left, then the right, thinking of all the sheer terror that once slept right were I stood was an emotional realization in, and of itself.
I gathered my thoughts. I had to focus on the Sugar Bowl game I was sent to cover for work.
Pacing around the field, I felt what I, along with some colleagues, could only describe as a "reverse haunting".
Those 25,000 people waiting for something to happen seemed to have injected a magic that could not be rivaled.
And $140 million dollars later the Louisiana Superdome was fixed.
And 13 months later, the Superdome was back in business—and the bayou babes were rocking the house.
The Saints were summoned to bring forth a growing process that would only help ease the pain what seemed so exceptionally horrendous.
I remembered that game as I paced around on the NOLA turf, staring out at the assortment of pink, purple, black and teal seats.
One would be short of having a soul had they not welled up that September evening in 2006.
Double goes for Super Bowl XLIV.
The team that wasn't supposed to be there did it.
The team that was supposed to move did it for The Big Easy.
The team that supposed to choke against three Hall of Fame quarterbacks did it.
In a row.
Kurt Warner saw his miraculous story-book ride come to an unlawful end at the hands of the Saints.
Ditto for Brett Favre (check back in August, actually).
Most ironically, the team that was supposed to lose to the city's favorite son won by the hand of the city's newest favorite son.
Sean Payton, much like the city of New Orleans played his hand with all his chips in the pot.
He knew that if he'd play a conservative game, he'd never forgive himself.
He knew he had to make that call.
It worked out.
Just like everything has for the city of New Orleans since that fateful August in 2005.
Payton drove a stake into her heart.
Tracy Porter provided the counter-punch TKO.
And of course, not forgetting Da Mayor, Drew Brees.
The Saints won the Super Bowl.
Think of any ludicrous statement to leave one person's mouth, and that would be at the top of the list.
No. 1 with a bullet, no less.
But, they did it.
And for all these reasons tossed into this proverbial melting pot, that has to make this the most amazing story in the history of professional sports.
A city that seemed to have been lost forever was on top of it all.
I thought of my time in New Orleans. The people I met. The faces I saw. The unrelenting realness of the people of that city that would forever stick with me.
Never have I found a place or its people more deserving of lamenting all the through the night for the sake of themselves.
They did it. Dey did.
As I left New Orleans, I took it all in and remembered that some things in life only happen once. If you're lucky, they do only happen once, because that first sense of reality is a euphoria unmatched by anything else.
As Payton pumped his fist on the sideline, as Porter pointed to the crowd of Saints fans returning a 74-yard Peyton Manning interception and as Brees held his infant son, Baylen, to the heavens, you knew that this was something made up in a fairy tale.
Except this was no fairy tale. This was actually all happening.
Just like my paces around the Superdome floor.
Just like the city of New Orleans not so long ago, buried in what seemed like a watery tomb.
Yes, sports, in the big picture shouldn't really be considered in the big picture.
But in times of seemingly indefinable defeat, the rally point is where it all starts.
The city of New Orleans had a rallying point. It was the Superdome.
Its inhabitants: Dem' Patron Saints.
And with Porter prancing toward the end zone and Brees taking the final snap, the city won.
It beat the Indianapolis Colts.
It beat the doubters.
It beat the haters.
It beat her.
Her name was Katrina.
And in that victory, the lives of those 1,464 lost and millions affected by her wrath, the city that has more it than any other, shone so bright and once again captivated an entire nation.
It being spirit.
"It has been said that a Scotchman has not seen the world until he has seen Edinburgh—I think that I may say that an American has not seen the United States until he has seen Mardi Gras in New Orleans."
There's a first for everything. This year, Mardi Gras got a gracious nine-day head-start.