"Pigs have flown. Hell has frozen over. The New Orleans Saints are on their way to the Super Bowl!!”
Those were the words of Saints radio man Jim Henderson 3 weeks ago as the field goal of 23 year old Garrett Hartley went through the up rights. Throughout the Who Dat Nation grown men cried and strangers embraced. The city of New Orleans was in a euphoric state of disbelief, shock, and utter joy.
This was the moment many Saints fans thought they may never see. The Saints were in the Super Bowl after 43 years of futility and heartbreak. This is a team and a city parched for success, always seeming to come up short. However, this team is not the “Aints” and these ain’t your daddy’s Saints! This is a team that deserves to be in the Super Bowl and a city that deserves to be a positive spotlight.
After Katrina, it appeared that the Saints were gone, as the future of the city, its scattered people, and Superdome all were uncertain. However, the Saints stayed and became part of rebuilding and healing process, woven into the fabric of the people.
I can’t help but remember sitting in the Superdome in 2006 for the first game back in New Orleans in over a year. The Saints blocked a punt for a touchdown 3 minutes’ into the game and a year’s worth of emotion boiled over from the crowd. I thought the building was shaking from its foundation. On Monday Night Football, for 37 seconds, an eternity on live television, the announcers said nothing, just the noise of the crowd could be heard.
A connection that spans generations and transcends race, class, and creed, New Orleans sees itself in the Saints in a way that cannot be compared to any other sports team in America. The Saints and New Orleans are one in the same. This is a tale of rebirth, rebuilding, and redemption. A team made up of castoffs, undrafted free agents, and underrated late round picks. If there ever was an underdog story of a franchise and a city this is it. This year was more than just a great football season for the Saints; it was a reflection of a city on the rise. The New Orleans Saints are not a symbol of rebuilding, but a symbol of what has been rebuilt, and that the best is yet to come.
Throughout this season, NOPD reported a dramatic drop in crime during games. After away games, thousands of fans lined the streets outside of the airport, waiting to cheer on the team in a scene that looked like an impromptu Mardi Gras parade. The Monday after the Super Bowl, New Orleans schools and courts were scheduled to close. The Tuesday following the Super Bowl, the city planned a parade for the Saints…win OR lose!
On Super Bowl Sunday, it was all lagniappe as the Saints seemed to be playing with house money. In an epic battle against the greatest quarterback of all time and favorite son of New Orleans, Peyton Manning, the Saints took chances and made big plays all over the field. These Saints were not settling for just a seat at the table of football greatest, they wanted to seize it.
After the game, as black and gold confetti painted the turf, Drew Brees held his 1 year old boy with tears in his eyes and soaked in the moment. Said Brees earlier, "God puts you in a position for a reason, and me coming to New Orleans was a perfect example. It was a calling to come to a city like that. We were not only rebuilding a team, we were rebuilding a city, a region, a mentality. We've been through so much, but we're going to comeback stronger.”
This season will never be forgotten, rich in storylines, parallels, and divine intervention. In words of Jim Henderson, “To believe in the New Orleans Saints is to believe in miracles that seemingly never come. But this season - this incredible, unlikely season - they have."