is three weeks away. Not anymore. It started here in the Superdome on a
magic night that helped erase 43 years of franchise disappointment and
lift a city that deserved the joy finally savored.
The New Orleans Saints are going to the Super Bowl.
Black-clad fans packed the building in record
numbers and made sonic noise and chanted “Who Dat!” as festooned
umbrellas and parasols bobbed in the old N’Awlins style, a city
celebrating what it had waited for since 1967.
Hosting their first NFC Championship Game, the Saints defeated the Minnesota Vikings 31-28 Sunday night to earn a trip to
It went into overtime. What, like a fandom waiting 43 years couldn’t wait another few minutes?
“Four years ago, they were holes in this roof,” as coach
Sunday meant the greatest victory in Saints’
history. And it meant a chance for the Colts to reprise the Super Bowl
win they achieved after the 2006 season, the last SB held in
It also meant the league and television and
Sorry, Jets fans and Vikings fans. (OK, sorry Vikings fans. Not so much Jets fans.)
Saints-Colts might not be the matchup
economists and hoteliers preferred. Analysts pointed to Jets-Vikings as
the Super Bowl that would have made the cash registers ring loudest in
From a football vantage point, though, Colts-Saints is the duel you wanted.
This will mark the first Super Bowl since the 1993
season featuring both conference No. 1 seeds and the two teams with the
best regular-season records.
In the absence of a team portraying David (that would have been the Jets), we get two Goliaths. Not bad.
And topping the marquee, we get maybe the greatest quarterback of all time,
As a side dish, delicious as gumbo: Manning is a child of
His father, Archie, Saints quarterback back in the bad old days,
remains a folk hero in this city that must now coalesce to wish only
the worst for its favorite son’s son.
The newly minted Super Bowl also offers a contrast in franchises and fandoms.
The Colts were the royalty in Sunday’s final four.
Indy has made the playoffs an NFL-best eight consecutive years and won
the Super Bowl recently enough for the rings to still sparkle.
The Saints have the opposite history and heritage as
a club, making them so easy to root for even APART from the Hurricane
The Saints were delivered to
got the Dolphins. But, while we have waited seemingly forever for
another championship, folks here have waited what must feel like that
long for even a chance at one.
It took the Saints 22 years to achieve their first
winning record. The first playoff victory didn’t happen until 2000. The
city so often a Super Bowl host had never played in one. Until now.
“NOW IS OUR TIME,” proclaimed the local Times-Picayune newspaper, civic pride forgivably overwhelming objectivity.
A popular T-shirt here read simply: “Our Town. Our Team. Our Time.”
The idea seemed ridiculous just this past summer.
Saints in the Super Bowl? The team was coming off
7-9 and 8-8 seasons. Yet Brees handed out T-shirts to his teammates
during training camp this past summer with various inspirational
messages. One read:
Now, what was ludicrous is 60 minutes of football away.
How many mediocre teams across the NFL can feel a little bit of hope from the Saints’ one-season catapult?
Either way Sunday night’s NFC finale turned out, we
were going to get a Super Bowl that seemed ready for the challenge of
living up to all the hyperbole and hyperventilating the next 13 days
Already waiting, after all: Manning and the mighty Colts, who dispatched the underdog Jets with relative ease to spare
and suffering Dolfans the ignominy of watching the hated, stinkin’ Jets
take over the Dolphins’ very own locker room. (And many of
With either Saints or Vikings confronting Manning’s Colts, how could the league or TV or
Oh, and poor Minnesotans would have savored another
chance, at last, to help salve their long Super Bowl misery. The
Vikings were 0-for-4 in SBs in the 1970s and haven’t been back since.
But at least they’d gotten that far, and repeatedly.
And there was no mistaking that to anyone inside the
Superdome, which housed the largest crowd Sunday to ever watch a Saints
This was the franchise derisively called the
“Aints.” Local fans once were the first to wear bags over their heads
at games. “FLEUR DE LOSERS,” a headline once proclaimed.
Now, redemption. Who Dat is not a question anymore, but a declarative.
“Fear the Cheer” is a local expression, with reason.
Decibels in the dome supposedly reached 130 decibels Sunday night, the
level of jackhammers and jet engines. The only comparable sound I have
ever winced to hear at a sporting event is along pit row in Homestead
during a NASCAR race.
“Playing the Saints and playing the fans, too,” as Favre had put it. “That’s tough.”
POWER OF SPORTS
The Saints, their fans and this city remind us of
the power of sports as a coalescing force that can knit a community.
Sports can lift a city. Sometimes, sports can even help mend a city.
Four years ago, Hurricane Katrina devastated
The recovery goes on, the catastrophe so great that a local television commercial beseeching aid for
This was more than a city getting up and over four
decades of disappointment Sunday night. This was a city celebrating its
own resolve, and future.
It would be impossibly melodramatic if it weren’t true.
Four years ago, this city was drowning. The same
Superdome that rocked with merry bedlam Sunday housed impossible misery
then, as an impromptu encampment for the displaced.
This week, local doctors treated patients while wearing Saints jerseys.
It took 43 years. It was overtime, and past due. It felt like it was worth the wait.
(c) 2010, The Miami Herald.
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.