Good morning lovely readers,
This morning I am sharing a guest post my younger brother, Mark, wrote for me back in November. In light of the Saints’ win last night and the fact that they are going to the Superbowl, I am re-running this. As many of you know, I am from New Orleans. Mark still lives there. On the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina last August, I blogged about my family’s losses. You can view those posts here and here. Mark’s photos from his home are here. I have to say I think he’s written a really wonderful post, and I’m not even a football fan. But this is about so much more than football. Please read on.
There are a lot of places where the local sports team hasn’t “won the big one.” And in a lot of those places, fans still love their team, still cheer for them year in and year out, and they remain optimistic about “next year.” They want to feel what it’s like to win THE big game; to scream at the top of their lungs; to be filled with overwhelming happiness and euphoria, and to proudly raise their index fingers in the air while chanting their fight song or catch phrase. They don’t know what it’s like. They’ve seen it happen to other teams, but they can’t really understand. New Orleans Saints fans are the exception to the rule. See, even though the Saints have never won the Super Bowl, we know what all of those things feel like.
Hurricane Katrina did a number on the Superdome. It took about a year to repair the water damage from the storm and the destruction caused by the panicked crowd who stayed within the Dome without electricity or plumbing. I imagine it took a long time to remove the putrid smell of raw sewage and death. The Saints spent over a year without playing at home in the Dome.
On September 25, 2006, the Dome was finally reopened. That Monday night, the Saints took on the Atlanta Falcons as all of America watched (you DID watch didn’t you?). I’m sure your average out-of-towner thought, “Wow, I’ll bet the crowd will be excited.” They had no idea.
Picture losing everything. EVERYTHING. Your house destroyed. Your photo albums ruined. Your car totaled. Your job gone. Your friends and family scattered…or worse. Picture YOUR neighborhood, YOUR street, YOUR block…a post-apocalyptic nightmare.
Picture your voice cracking, “What?” as you are told that your insurance company won’t be covering your losses.
Picture hugging your best friend for the last time before she moves away…permanently.
Picture yourself attempting to comfort your child: “It’s going to be okay, honey. We’re going to get a NEW house, and you’ll have a NEW bed and NEW toys and NEW friends, and things will be better than ever.” Picture yourself doubting those words as they come out.
Picture trying to rebuild your home with your own two hands.
Picture the contractor you hired skipping town with your Road Home money.
Picture yourself sitting on a plastic storage container filled with the moldy, rotting remains of your life. Picture yourself crying uncontrollably.
Picture yourself emotionally exhausted. Picture yourself actually forgetting what it’s like to smile.
Imagine feeling those emotions…for a year.
(Don’t read the remainder of this until you’ve actually tried to picture these things.)
Now picture yourself finally getting some good news. Picture yourself hearing that your city’s team looks pretty good and they’re going to be able to play AT HOME for the first time in what feels like forever. You don’t even remember what it was like to tailgate or to have a party at your house. You can’t for the life of you even remember the last time you high-fived someone.
Picture yourself returning to the scene of so much pain, so much violence, so much uncertainty. When you walk through the turnstiles all you can hear is people say, “Wow, it looks like nothing happened here!” When you smell the hot dogs and popcorn, you think of MRE’s. You instinctively check the roof to make sure it’s fixed. When you walk to your seat you think, people died here.
You don’t quite understand it when the National Anthem plays and you can’t hold back the tears. You turn to the stranger next to you who is also wiping tears away, and you both laugh a little, take a deep breath and sigh.
The roar always starts near the Saints’ tunnel because the fans there can see the team when they line up before they take the field. But tonight, the sound is different…louder…more desperate. When the Saints make their first big play, you know you’re going to pump your fists and yell. That’s the conditioned fan response. It’s expected. It’s normal. You’re ready for some normalcy.
The Saints block a punt and return it for a touchdown.
You didn’t know it was going to feel like being born again. You weren’t prepared. No one else is either. The screams of 72,002 other people in the Dome feel like they could break levees. The tears could flood the streets. Every big play is like this. Every touchdown, every sack. You’ve known the definition of “catharsis” since 7th grade English class. You never knew its meaning until now.
Just when you think you have nothing left to give, it’s halftime and U2 and Green Day play a live rendition of “The Saints are Coming.” After the first line, “There is a house in New Orleans; they call it the Superdome,” you well up again. A minute later, Bono sings, “Living like birds in the Magnolia trees; child on a rooftop, mother on her knees; her sign reads ‘Please, I am an Americaaaaaaaaan!”
You weren’t prepared for that. The words ring in your head. The freeze-frame memories from a year ago come flooding back. You don’t hear the rest of the song.
You can’t decide whether what you’re feeling is sadness or happiness. You know no one around you knows the answer either.
After another half of complete euphoria, New Orleanians would be heard for miles, chanting “WHO DAT,” screaming at the top of their lungs, index fingers in the air. Sportswriters, coaches, and players would later say that there was no team, NO TEAM, ANYWHERE IN THE WORLD that could have beaten the Saints that night.
I want another night like that. I hope this is our year.