Friday, January 22, 2010

What the Saints mean to New Orleans

Ah, New Orleans. The Big Easy. Nola. The City that Care Forgot. Or my personal favorite, the Crescent City. The city is often fantasized about, and rightly so, but it has its fair share of problems too, all of which were present long before a category 4 hurricane ripped our levees open.

In order to live in New Orleans you have to have a much different set of priorities than most Americans. You can't let the little stuff bother you. Hence perhaps, the nickname the Big Easy. But it goes much further than that. You have to have an appreciation for great food, fascinating history, fine art, strange people and wonderful characters. We deal with crumbling roads, inept politicians, and the melting heat of August because the good always outweighs the bad. Living in New Orleans is an attitude more than anything else.

I write this because its hard for anyone who doesn't live here to fully appreciate or understand what Hurricane Katrina did to the people that lived here. Just like its hard for anyone to appreciate the full magnitude of Manhattan during 9/11, or Haiti these past few days. Not only were people's lives lost and homes destroyed, but most people lost everything they had ever owned. Imagine all of your photos or most prized possessions that have been in your family forever. Now imagine never being able to get them back. Not very cool, is it? Now imagine the rebuilding process. A bit daunting to say the least.

Most people were probably horrified at what they saw on their television sets during the days following Katrina. I can promise you no one was more horrified than the citizens of New Orleans. Not only were they devastated about their own property, but devastated because a city that loved, a city like no other on the whole face of the earth might be no longer. It's a scary thought.

But we have returned. And I venture to say that we're stronger than ever. How can this be? I'm a firm believer in always looking at the positive in any bad situation. If Katrina did anything, it exposed what most people have been ignoring or hiding for decades. We were forced not only to rebuild, but to rebuild and do it right this time. We're still far from perfect. Even far from good, but we're making steps in the right direction. This city is coming back. And its coming back because of the people that love it. Its coming back because of the people that can't imagine living anywhere else. Its coming back because of the people that can't imagine a world without New Orleans.

And it's coming back because of Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints. It's hard to imagine where we would be without them, and I thank God I don't have to. What these ambassadors have done for the city is immeasurable. I know it cliche to say, but oh well: The New Orleans Saints have given this city hope that it would have never gotten without them. Period.

Whether it was an act of God, karma, or just plain good luck is up for debate. But Drew Brees signing with the Saints is the most significant sports signing of all time. Not only did we get the best quarterback to ever play the game (alright, I'm a little bias...but seriously, do you watch him play?) but we got a hero in every sense of the word. He, Duece McAllister, Chris Paul, and countless other pro athletes have adopted this city as their second home, and it shows. Not one of them is doing it for the publicity. Not one of them is doing it for an SI cover. And that is probably the most meaningful thing about the whole damn thing. They genuinely care.

Brees, McAllister, Paul, Shockey, Colston, Bush, Payton, and countless other superstars lend their time, money, and heart to help the city. None of them owe us anything and yet they do nothing but represent the city the best way they can. All of these men (and any other superstar I forgot to mention) are the most humble men in the world. Why? How? Don't they know the power they possess? They do. And they use it for the greater good. They are the leaders of men.

So let's take a moment to imagine a Breesless Saints team. We go 5-11 in 2006. Maybe we get a new head coach and stick around the devastated city for one more year. Maybe we improve to 6-10. Then, like a bread pudding souffle in front of John Goodman, they're gone. The team is the San Antonio Saints, or the Los Angeles Saints. Doesn't quite have the same ring to it. It's scary to think about.

But the stars did align. We got a brilliant head coach in Sean Payton who took a chance on a damaged quarterback with little more than a winning attitude. Drew Brees came into this ravage city and made a vow to himself and to the people that he would bring more than a Superbowl to this city. He vowed to bring pride, hope, and a new way to look at life. He is more than a quarterback, and the Saints are more than a professional football team. They are a hope and a way of life to the people that lost everything.

So you see, in a city where most people lost everything these hero's bring us the most important thing of all: inspiration. The great thing about inspiration is that it has a different meaning to everyone. Brees and these Saints, well, they just inspire. And that's not an easy thing to do. It means being a leader at all times. Never taking a day off. Always putting others first. Let's just say he's earned the name Breesus. He is more than an elite quarterback. He is an elite human being. And that's something everyone can appreciate.

What Brees and these athletes have done for New Orleans is unprecedented. When the Saints take the field they are more than just a football team. Another cliche, I know, but its true. They represent their city like no other professional team represents a city. When the Saints win, New Orleans wins. Please, tell me another instance where a few individuals have saved a way of life for millions. I can't think of one, and that's not to say that there hasn't been a situation like this before. But there has never been one that has hit so close to home. So this Sunday, when the Dome is shaking and your ears are about to bleed, just think of what could have been.

Signing off I'll leave you with one last thought. For the people who call New Orleans home, it's sometimes easy to get down. We have a long way to go. The task ahead of us is formidable and its going to take years. But we're heading in the right direction thanks to a few great men.

New Orleans will always be New Orleans. You take the good with the bad. But the Saints bring the place to another level. And especially when the Saints are winning, there's no other place on earth I'd rather be. Just imagine what its going to be like when we win the Superbowl.

1 comment:

  1. Agree completely. I know that New Orleans existed for a couple of hundred years without the Saints, but I confess that it's hard to imagine what New Orleans would be without them, their spirit, their gifts back to the City.