(Long Island, N.Y.) No one on Bourbon Street late Sunday night needed to be reminded of the magnitude a single football game took on. Not just for the challenge that the city of New Orleans but the entire state of Louisiana went through four years ago as a result of Hurricane Katrina, but from a sports perspective, as well.
The Saints have been one of the league’s laughingstocks on more occasions than not and their fans made donning paper bag masks fashionable during the team’s miserable 1-15 season in 1980. But that was a long time ago and both citizens and players bonded through the natural disaster that nearly destroyed more than the Superdome.
When Drew Brees was asked about what the 31-17 win in Super Bowl XLIV meant to the city, he didn’t hesitate. “It means everything,” the game MVP said. “We’re here because of their strength and everything they fought through here the last few years. They’ve given us so much support, and so we owe it all to our fans.”
Even taking in the victory, Sean Payton remained humble. “I’m very happy for the ‘Who Dat’ Nation,” the head coach said about the legion of Saints fans. “I’m very happy for the Benson family to finally get a world championship. I’m really appreciative that they invited me into the family to be along for this ride.”
Heading into the game, all the talk was how Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning could cement his place in history by winning his second title. The AFC champions were the more polished and experienced club and the Saints seemed like they were just happy to be there. But no one told them that.
“We had talked about being aggressive coming into the game,” Payton added. “All week we had practiced that onside kick and at halftime I just told those guys we have to make our look right here.”
By surprising the Colts with a little trickery to open the third quarter, the Saints were able to sustain a scoring drive and take their first lead of the game after trailing early by a score of 10-0. They didn’t get rattled and stuck to their game plan, just like the people of New Orleans did in rebuilding their community.
“I know not only the city, but the whole region, will appreciate this trophy,” said Payton. “I just wish we could split it up into a lot of little pieces and give it to everybody. They are a part of it and I’m happy to be a part of it as well.”
With the exception of the people of Indianapolis, the entire country was more than likely behind the Saints in this game. A feel-good story is always an easy sell and seeing the long-suffering Saints reach the pinnacle of their sport meant even more because of the devastation the entire Gulf Coast went through.
With that kind of support, there was no way they could lose. And Mardi Gras will always have to live up to the party following the Super Bowl win.