Monday, September 25, 2006



Today is a big day for me. Today is the day when a little piece of my heart and soul returns home. Today is the day that the New Orleans Saints play a football game in the Louisiana Superdome for the first time since December of 2004. As some of you are aware, I am a huge Saints fan. People who have never lived in New Orleans don't really understand what it means to be a Saints fan. There is no other fan in professional football like a Saints fan. This is a team that has been in existence since 1967 and in that time, this team has managed only six winning seasons and only one playoff win ever. Yet, every year, patrons would dutifully make their way to Tulane Stadium first, then the Superdome in 1974. Some years were leaner than others as far as a packed Dome went. But whether you made it to the game or not, the Saints were a part of the fabric of the city. I read somewhere that if you knew nothing about the game from the prior Sunday, you would be able to tell if the Saints won or lost that Monday morning just by walking down the street.
Growing up in my household, my first memories of the team were at an early age when I remember hearing about Archie Manning. I wasn't a fan back then, being more interested at the time with my Star Wars action figures than with sports in general. In fact, I really did not begin to embrace this thing called football until I was around 12, when the team hired a new head coach named Jim Mora. Mora lasted longer (11 years) than any head coach in Saints history, and that is saying something for a team that is celebrating its fortieth anniversary this year. So, I became a fan back during the gravy years of the late '80s and early '90s. Things took a bad turn after the '92 season though they stayed that way for the rest of the decade, yet still, every Sunday afternoon, I was there in front of my television watching them play. I spent most of the '90s in college and there were many a Saturday that was lost in a hazy of alcohol, but I refused to miss a Saints game no matter how hung over and bleary-eyed I may have been.
When I moved to Atlanta in 1999 every Sunday I would travel to a sports bar 15 miles from my apartment in order to watch the Saints game. And believe me, the 1999 season was nothing to write home about, but there I was, with my then-girlfriend and future wife in tow, supporting my Saints in the decidedly hostile confines of the Atlanta Falcons' city. By 2001, I had bought my first home in the suburbs of Atlanta so I was able to have a satellite dish installed so that I could watch the Saints at my brand new house.
In 2005 I moved down to Daphne, in South Alabama. This area was officially defined as the Saints television market so that meant that I could watch the team without the need of a dish. I spent the summer of 2005 anxiously awaiting the start of the '05 season and I was hoping that I might actually make a game or two now that I lived just over two hours away. Then Hurricane Katrina happened. Then my whole world changed. Then the city of New Orleans was changed. As I've chronicled before, the impact on the many members of my family who live in the New Orleans area was severe. My New Orleans Saints suffered as well.
The Saints spent the 2005 season in a nomadic existence. Given the condition that New Orleans and the Superdome was in, they had no choice but to play all sixteen games away from home. In addition to eight road games they would normally play, the team also played one game in Giants Stadium in New Jersey, four games in San Antonio in the dreadful Alamodome and three games at Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge. Constant life on the road and the difficulty of playing a game while you know that the city you play for has been all but wiped off of the map took its toll and the team finished with a 3-13 record.
Last year was a dark year for Saints fans. The owner of the team on several occasions made it known that he'd like to move the team to San Antonio fulltime where he has a home and some business interests. Saying this to dedicated Saints fans was stabbing a knife in the back of someone who had just gone 10 rounds with Muhammad Ali. The citizens had already been battered and bruised by Katrina. Now the owner was threatening to rip away the very soul of the city for the greener pastures of fucking San Antonio! Soon, cooler heads prevailed as the commissioner of the National Football League, Paul Tagliabue, stepped in and put an end to any relocation talk. Tagliabue saw how bad of shape the city was in, but he also knew that to abandon New Orleans would be a crushing blow to the city and its nascent rebuilding efforts. He refused to give up on us and I am eternally grateful for his faith in this city.
In December of 2005, the wheels were set in motion to basically rebuild the Superdome, which had suffered massive damage from the storm and the people who sought shelter there as a dwelling of last resort. Since December, the Dome has been a blur of activity. The gauntlet had been thrown down - this building would be ready for a football game on September 25, 2006. It was through the efforts of tens of thousands of people that an undertaking of this magnitude was able to meet that deadline. In all honesty, in the construction world, given the amount of work to be done, this undertaking was next to impossible. But here we are.
Tonight, in front of a crowd of close to 70,000 fans, as well as George H.W. Bush and many other dignitaries, including over 500 members of the press from around the world, the Superdome will again be open for business. The game will have the feel of a Super Bowl (or at least I think it will since the Saints have never even sniffed one of those). ESPN will be camped out the entire day broadcasting its various shows and hyping the game for all its worth. There will be many stories about how in many areas, the rebuilding and healing process hasn't even begun, and those are incredibly important stories that the nation needs to hear. But come 7:30 pm local time, for three hours, people might just forget that they live in a trailer on their front lawn or that all their belongs washed away on a late August morning. We're going to forget for a while how difficult this past year has been for us. For three hours, we will gather at the Dome or in front of our televisions and watch our beloved Saints play in front of a home crowd that has missed them so very dearly. Win or lose, tonight will be night that many of us will ever forget. The Goo Goo Dolls are going to playing outside the Dome as part of pregame festivities this evening, and one of the songs they'll be performing, "Better Days", has the closing lines,

Cuz tonight's the night the world begins again
Cuz tonight's the night the world begins again

If you're a Saints fan who has suffered the living hell that has been this past year, no truer words have ever been sung.

Are you ready for some football? We are. See you there.

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