By now I'm sure you've heard that the Saints are going to the Super Bowl. You may already be sick and tired of the "Who Dat", "Geaux Saints!", and "Laissez Les Bon Temps Roulez". But, let me go ahead and break a bit of news. The frenzy has only just begun. This may confound and confuse you. You may be thinking, "Give me a break. It's just football, right?" Well, you see, that's the thing that's so wonderful about the Saints going to the Super Bowl. It's not just football.
If you've never traveled to the New Orleans area, let me encourage you to do just that. There is just something a bit magical about New Orleans. The French Quarter architecture alternates between gaudily colorful and a touch of stately elegance. Bourbon Street really does smell like stale whiskey. Voodoo shops are a dime a dozen. Magazine Street is an artist's paradise. The Creole cuisine is a spicy treat, and the beignets at Cafe du Monde really do melt in your mouth. Even though all of these things are true about New Orleans, they are not what creates the magic.
The people of New Orleans are what makes New Orleans such a special place. There is a love, a loyalty, and a pride in this city which is unique to the area. This spirit of loyalty is not restricted only to those who have deep roots in the area. Even newcomers find themselves caught up in the spirit of the city, and soon feel an emotional attachment as though they have spent their entire lives here.
I don't live in New Orleans, but my Dad was raised there and my grandparents lived there. We visited regularly as I was growing up. As a child, I caught my first glimpse of a "beatnik" through the open door of a bar on a French Quarter corner. When I was sixteen, my friends and I hopped aboard a Greyhound bus and spent Fat Tuesday prowling the streets of New Orleans. I've always felt a connection to that wonderful, bawdy, boisterous place. In June of 2005 my family spent a lovely day in New Orleans. My father acted as tour guide, showing us his childhood home, his school, and the streets where he delivered the Times Picayune newspaper. I insisted that my son photograph everything, feeling an intense need to preserve every moment and image from that day. I had no idea that two months later the landscape of the city would be scarred forever by the ravages of Katrina.
The people of New Orleans are determined to reclaim the the magic of their city, and they are well on their way to doing just that. It took the Saints 21 years to experience a winning season. Their fans grew so frustrated that they took to wearing bags over their heads and calling themselves "the Aints". But, they still went to the games, they still wore their black and gold, and they continued to loyally follow their home team.
So, after 42 years, the Saints are going to the Super Bowl. Today, five years after the city was almost destroyed, the Saints are the NFC champions. It seems that the Saints are giving a gift back to the people who have loved them through the good, the bad, and the ugly. It still seems like a dream. And it's not just football...not by a long shot.