It’s rare when a team and its fans bond in the way that the Saints did with the people of the Gulf Coast. The result seemed truly magical. Sure, when the Saints won 31 – 17, there were the inevitable shots of Bourbon Street being flooded with celebrants. What put a lump in my throat and gave me a chill was when Rachel Nichols, a reporter for ESPN based in New Orleans for the Super Bowl, said that during the game the streets were absolutely deserted because everyone was inside watching the game. She said the only sound was when the Saints made a big play like recovering their onside kick at the beginning of the second half or when Saints cornerback Tracy Porter ran an interception 74 yards for a closing minutes touchdown that sealed the game. Nichols said at times like that she could literally feel and hear the cheers echoing throughout the city of New Orleans.
Like I said, it gave me chills.
When I woke up this morning, I was thinking about the game and the question that kept turning in my head was, “Who are you playing for?” In his post game press conference, Saints quarterback and Super Bowl MVP Drew Brees answered that question:
“We played for so much more than just ourselves; we played for our city. We played for the entire Gulf Coast region. We played for the entire Who Dat nation that has been behind us every step of the way. What can I say? We've been blessed with so much. It's unbelievable… Four years ago, whoever thought this would be happening. 85 percent of the city was under water. People were evacuating to places all over the country. Most people left not knowing if New Orleans would ever come back, or if the organization would ever come back. Not only did the organization come back, the city came back and so many players, our core group of players that came in that year as free agents, we just all looked at one other and said, 'We are going to rebuild together. We are going to lean on each other.' That's what we've done the last four years and this is the culmination in all that belief."So, hats off to Drew Brees and his Saints teammates who became a part of the city they won a championship for. Hats off to Saints head coach Sean Payton, who made the right calls in the game, but laid the foundation four years ago when he brought his team to the field of the Super Dome, showed them scenes of a Katrina-devastated New Orleans on the Jumbrotron and told them that they were playing for a community that needed healing and redemption.
When you can define a purpose that’s bigger than yourself or something as narrow and ephemeral as winning a championship, you create the conditions for something lasting to happen. The cliché in sports is that when you win a championship, they can’t take that away from you. As the final seconds ticked away last night and Drew Brees took a knee to close the win, the people of New Orleans, Louisiana and the Gulf Coast got something that can never be taken away.
And now, as Mardi Gras starts early this year, to Saints fans everywhere, “Laissez les bon temps roulez!” You’ve earned it.