Wednesday, January 27, 2010


late 14c., from communis "common, public, general, shared by all or many"

Commonalities make communities. One of the ways we connect in our communities is through shared commonalities. Think about it, when you are meeting a member of your community for the first time, you search out commonalities: do you know so and so, do your kids go to such and such school, have you seen the crazy bird that lives on the side of that running path. We are all members of many micro communities: our physical communities, our social communities, communities formed by common interests be it fly-fishing or competitive eating. We are also members of greater macro communities: our communities as Americans and citizens of the world. You could meet someone who you may have absolutely nothing in common with but, depending on your respective ages, you might discuss where you were when Pearl Harbor was attacked, Kennedy was assassinated, or OJ's acquittal. As a member of a macro community you have mutual experiences.

Since August 28, 2005, the New Orleans, and Gulf Coast common experience has been Katrina. Where were you when you decided to stay/leave. When did you leave? Where did you go? How long did it take you? When did you come back? Katrina was something so catastrophic that every single person in the city of New Orleans has an answer to 'when did you come back' because every person eventually had to leave. This common experience has bound New Orleanians tighter than ever. Following Katrina my tours of Tulane changed, to include what I have found to be the most remarkable aspect of life in New Orleans: EVERYONE who is here wants to be here. Everyone here was forced out and made a conscious decision to return. There is not a single person in this city who is here because they grew up here and never left the city. Everyone left, everyone here now has come back. This is quite the unifying experience.

Tulane University played a huge part in bringing this city back and I am proud to have been a part of this amazing city's renaissance. I remember arriving in January 2006 before most students and seeing an empty town filled with destroyed houses. Not boarded up houses-that would have meant that people had been back. Houses still full of possessions of their occupants, but with windows blown out and floodwater marks above the tops of the window-frames. I remember the grocery stores only being open from 9am-6pm and the National Guard patrolling the streets. I remember reading an article about how the return of the Tulane student population increased the population of the city by 10%. I also remember that before and after Katrina, Tulane has been the largest private employer in the city. Tulane brought back the power grid and championed schools to bring the professors back. Tulane sponsored tests of the air and soil and water to convince parents it was safe to have students come back. Tulane brought us all back, students, staff, professors and really provided an impetus for the rest of the population to come back.

Without Tulane and the other big companies returning to the city I don't think the city would be back. But the Saints were a part of the soul of this town long before Katrina and when Benson brought the Boys back, and brought in Brees and Bush and Payton, he restored the soul of this town.

I was on the field when U2 and GreenDay re-opened the Superdome on September 26, 2006 for the Saints/Falcons game. Twelve months before the dome was the site of horrendous pain and suffering. That night, the dome was alive. Even in the recording of the performance you can hear the crowd. That night was my first real interaction with the Saints. I remember organizing the tour guide organization to go, I remember practicing our 'crowd skills' in the Arena before, I remember learning the 'Who Dat' cheer while we waited almost all day. I remember after the band came off the stage and we ran off the field lingering in the tunnel, one foot still on the turf, as the Saints ran out onto the field, because it was important to me to have been on the field at the same time as them. I remember being within an arms reach of Bono and the Edge, but what I remember the most clearly is the energy of the humanity in the dome that night. And I remember going home and putting my name on the waiting list for Saints season tickets.

That was a truly magical Saints season. People were still just returning to their houses; there were still more blue tarps than actual roofs in the city. But every week, when those Saints played everyone watched. We watched them win and lose and go further than any Saints team had ever gone. We listened as the mystical New Orleans music scene generated songs of adoration and tunes of hope; songs that attempted to convey what the team meant to the city.

On Sunday, the feeling was different from the slightly hysterical hope and euphoria of the dome that night in September 2006. Last week against the Cardinals the crowd had swagger. This week, the crowd had a desperate will. This crowd was going to will our boys to the Superbowl. This crowd had willed an entire city through a catastrophic event back into vitality. This crowd, and the crowd in front of every TV in the city and region, has willed itself through life, and we would will our boys to victory.

These players, this team, understands the city. They understand the desperate faith and hope of the fans. They see it every day: on the highway, where a car without a Saints sticker, flag or license plate is the odd one out, on the street, where 1 out of every 3 people is probably wearing something saints-related [although this season that has pretty much increased to 100%], and at the airport, where the fans line up to welcome the team home from every away game, cheering as if they are returning from a Superbowl victory. These players referred to the fans at the dome as 'the 12th man,' they said they were playing for the city and her people. These players aren't looking for personal records. At the heart of the team, pretty much everyone besides Reggie Bush is a player that another team didn't want, but we took them in. This is a team of fighters, people who have willed themselves to succeed. In many ways, the team and the city have inspired each other.

This team has done more than just win games and inspire the city for an few hours a week, a few months a year. This team has had a far-reaching impact in the city. The economy has blossomed with the huge production of Saints gear: artists, screen-printers, and local stores have all benefited. The players have sponsored charities and really been involved in more than a cursory manner. Drew Brees has created a team of men who care for this community and share their appreciation. This team has supported others in the community: attending Hornets games, and events in the city. This team even positively impacted the crime in the city: there were no murders during Saints games this entire season. In any other town that might not be saying a lot, but here, in this town, it means a lot. It means that probably at least 20 lives were spared because people were too enthralled with the Saints and the games to go around killing each other.

And on Sunday, this team won the right to play in the Superbowl. For the first time in team history. When Garrett Hartley lined up to kick that field goal the dome was silent. When he made contact there was an audible gasp. And never in my life have I been so excited to see a ball hurtling straight towards me. Splitting the uprights. Right in the middle. SUPERBOWL!!!

I cannot even describe the pandemonium that ensued. I will say this: grown men burst into tears, 'football friends' and perfect strangers hugged, and Mr. Bill just smiled. Mr. Bill is the older gentleman who sits in our row. He is quite aged and comes to every game wearing a hat covered in Saints pins. I don't know if he has attended every game but I wouldn't be surprised if he has been going to games for 43 years. After the tears and confetti and screams and jubilation, after the ceremony and Benson's stroll, as people were filing out and wishing each other 'Happy Superbowl' and 'See you in August', Mr. Bill filed past us to leave. And he just kept on smiling, like he had been patiently waiting his whole life for this day and now it had finally come. His boys were going to the Superbowl, and he was there, watching them win the game that got them there.

I have never seen a happier place than New Orleans since that ball split the uprights. Everyone is smiling and everyone is wearing Saints gear. This town, famous for its parties on Bourbon St and Mardi Gras is so happy I don't think anyone would even notice if there wasn't a Mardi Gras this year. But, like every year, there is a Mardi Gras this year. I'm going to go out on a limb and guess that there will be MANY Saints players riding in krewes. Some of the early krewes have rescheduled their parades to avoid conflicting with the Superbowl, because they know there would be no crowd. And there would be no riders. Because come Sunday 2/7, 2010, the city of New Orleans will be watching. Watching their boys on the biggest football stage. But I don't think this will be the Saints biggest game ever. I think that game was already played. I think that game was played this past Sunday. In front of their home crowd. Because I don't really think the city cares if they win the Superbowl. Clarification: I'm not saying the city wants them to lose, or that anybody wants the Colts to win, but I just think that for this city, getting there was the biggest accomplishment of all. Just like being here, back in this city, is the biggest accomplishment for many of the fans.

Above all else, this team is the fabric of this community. And from here forward, I know that 'Where were you when the Saints beat the Vikings' will become one of those unifying questions in this town. Nothing will ever replace Katrina as the great equalizer and unifier, but this win will be up there for sure. Unless they win the Superbowl. In which case both wins will join Katrina as epic moments in this city.

So a big thank you to the Saints, this city who has welcomed me and whom I love, and to everyone out there who has championed New Orleans to their friends and neighbors or visited in the last 4 years.

There is still much to be done, but there is hope, and a will, and a way.