Five years on from the devastation that Hurricane Katrina caused to the Crescent City, Richard Chambers looks at the pride the New Orleans Saints have restored to their hometown
When he takes to the field in Miami on 7th February with the task of ending the Saints’ 43-year wait for a Super Bowl, quarterback Drew Brees will carry the hopes of a city that is ready to celebrate. With the destitution inflicted upon the area still a recent memory, and with the continuing plight of the Lower Ninth Ward still a reality, the rise of Brees and his talented Saints team has rekindled the famous festive atmosphere in New Orleans.
The transformation of the New Orleans Saints has been remarkable. In the wake of Hurricane Katrina during late August 2005, the Saints were forced to fulfil their home fixtures in various locations while the Superdome served as the ‘shelter of last resort’ for 30,000 people. The torn roof of the Superdome became one of the enduring images of the suffering inflicted upon Louisiana during the hurricane, but the dome has now become a symbol of unity and hope in the embattled city.
The return of the Saints to the Superdome in the 2006 season was a source of considerable pride to the Gulf coast. The 30,000 beleaguered replaced with 70,000 fans displaying the same ‘vive’ that defines New Orleans as the home of jazz and Mardi Gras. The acquisition of coach Sean Payton, college superstar Reggie Bush and Drew Brees was to prove a significant milestone in the history of the team.
Brees, jettisoned by the San Diego Chargers, was forced to choose between a career in tropical Miami or the ravaged New Orleans. The quarterback made it a personal mission to restore pride to a city that has lost so much. The devastation he was met with did little to daunt his resolve.
“For me, I looked at that as an opportunity to be part of the rebuilding process,” he enthused at the time. “How many people get that opportunity in their life to be a part of something like that?” The charity work of his foundation and his unique talent on the field has not gone unnoticed by the faithful. His rapport with the fans and teammates is peerless in modern sport: hailed as a saviour both on and off the field by the city, it is little wonder that fans have gifted him the nickname ‘Breesus’.
The financial and emotional lift that a Super Bowl victory would bring to New Orleans is immeasurable. The economic benefit of hosting two major playoff games has been obvious in the French Quarter, where tourism revenue has seen a significant increase – a fact that Brees was quick to note immediately following his team’s dramatic victory over Minnesota, which took them to the season finale.
Swathes of revellers on Bourbon Street have chanted Brees’ name and the team’s unofficial anthem “Who Dat?”. Their joy at seeing their team capture the NFC Championship could only be surpassed by an unlikely victory over the Colts. But for Brees and his Saints, a Super Bowl ring would be a fitting reward for their endeavour.