“New Orleans is back. And now the whole world knows it.”
I guess the closest comparison in my life to this, the first Super Bowl win by the New Orleans Saints, a franchise created in 1967, is being with my sister as she gave birth to her first child. Only then did I feel this sort of exhilaration, where I can’t recall what may have stressed me out two days ago, because whatever it was, it’s not important. Nothing feels this important. And this time, the joy is not shared with just family and friends, but it’s all around me. Just this morning I overheard three clerks at Whole Foods discussing game plays while stocking the dairy section, and I joined my yoga class in breathing in “Who…..” and breathing out “Dat…..” (courtesy of our native New Orleans instructor, Claiborne), confirming that Saints fever is indeed everywhere.
When I stopped for gas this morning at Lee Circle, I forgot about the cold wind as I admired (all from the Exxon Station) the Mardi Gras flags on surrounding balconies, the streetcar rounding the circle, General Lee standing clear against the sky, the Mississippi River Bridge peeking between the buildings, and the Saints jersey on the guy at the gas pump opposite me, who ran over for a quick high five, somehow sensing my sentimental mood, because he no doubt feels the same way about this old city and its new beginning.
(Alexander Doyle’s 1884 sculpture of General Robert E. Lee pictured below in a photograph, circa 1900.)
And it is a new beginning, almost as though we have a lucky star hanging over not just the Superdome, not just the French Quarter, but every part of New Orleans and Metairie and surrounding areas. Katrina could have (should have) brought us together; instead the storm, corruption, and racially motivated comments and ugliness divided us further. This victory has done the impossible, uniting us in a way that we thought was lost.
I’ve been proud of this city all of my life for many reasons, especially its history, beauty, culture, and people, but I’ve been ashamed too, particularly when I read about our troubles in the New York Times or USA Today. Now the Saints are Super Bowl champions, and New Orleans, finally, graces the world’s press with something positive.
Today there is a happiness epidemic throughout this city, and it’s infiltrated even the smallest parts of our lives. Something as ordinary as answering the telephone is new and exciting. Every person I called today, whether a friend or for business, answered their phone not with “hello,” but with “Who dat?”
We flew back from Miami yesterday, landing by chance just ahead of the Saints football team, owners, and other members of the organization. That meant that we stood on the tarmac with just a few chosen folks meeting the team as they emerged from the plane’s door.
There were thousands of people waiting to greet the Saints’ plane outside of security (we could see them from the airplane windows as we landed), crowding around the airport and down Veterans Boulevard.
And yet we found ourselves by accident standing with the Governor and his family, the Archbishop and two nuns, and a few other area notables. As the team descended the stairs, our band of twenty or so screamed for the Saints, trying to make them feel welcome and appreciated, although we knew that the waiting crowds would do a much better job.
(pictured from left: Henry Shane, Supriya and Governor Bobby Jindal with their son Shaan, George and Wendy Rodrigue, Pat Shane)
In my excitement I forgot to be intimidated by Archbishop Aymond and instead ran up to him as though he didn’t know the big news:
“We have a clean slate, Your Excellency —- Mitch Landrieu (after three tries) is our mayor* AND we won the Super Bowl!* It’s like we’re starting over!”
*In the past both concepts routinely appeared alongside the phrase ‘when hell freezes over.’
And in chorus (I kid you not), Archbishop Aymond and his nuns looked skyward, opened their arms, and said,
In Miami we saw friends from all over the Southeast. Together we shouted, “We’re here for you!” We knew our Saints would win. I saw grown men cry at a first down or a replay of the last play-off game’s tie-breaking field goal. We grew hoarse screaming our “Who Dat’s” and singing “When the Saints Go Marching In.”
(Who dat pictured below? Dat’s me and George at the game just after Tracy Porter’s 74 yard interception.)
And we tried to show sympathy (albeit half-hearted) to the one Colts fan in our midst who commented with a sigh between our singing and cheering,
“All we’ve got is … ‘Go Colts’…”
(pictured, Saints fans Jeff Pellegrin, Jason Dore, and Jacques Rodrigue)
George and I travel all over America, and we hear consistently these questions, in tones both surprised and pitiful:
“You’re from New Orleans? You mean you stayed? How are things?”
And because this blog has taught me that everybody doesn’t know the things I take for granted, I’m here to tell you:
Things are GREAT —- especially if you’re a tourist! The French Quarter has never been cleaner; the famous chefs are in their restaurants; the festivals attract the most talented musicians; the people could not be happier to see you; we have a new mayor; and our football team just won the Super Bowl.
We’re not only back, we’re better.
Hope to see you soon in the Big Easy-
For more, see the post Who Dat!… Plus Voodoo, Cow Heads, and DC Mardi Gras