I was expecting a different outcome when I traveled out to Lakeview to see how residents there were watching the Saints game. I wanted to celebrate the incredible displays of neighborhood solidarity out there, as people assembled in trailers, in gutted homes, in churches and in tents, to watch the Saints game. They demonstrated that a neighborhood is more than just a collection of buildings; it’s a team bound together by relationships and common goals.
I was so sure the Saints would win, and so was everyone else. It just seemed like the stars had aligned for the Saints, that the curse of the dome had been lifted, that our wandering in the desert in search of the promised land had ended, that the gris-gris was kicking in, and that the magic would somehow rub off on us as we struggle to rebuild our lives, our homes, and our neighborhoods.
Alas, the Saints were stopped. Lakeview residents were visibly shocked and dismayed. The blow of defeat hit them hard. They really needed a victory. One woman driving away from a party gestured to me through the driver’s side window — she swept fingers down her cheeks like tears. From the players’ post-game comments I heard, the Saints were playing for a New Orleans’ recovery victory as much as we were cheering for a Saints Super Bowl victory.
Sean Payton said he recognized those expectations — he said he recognized the team spirit attitude of Saints and New Orleanians — which made the sting of defeat for fans and players that much worse.
“The hurt we have now will go away,” coach Sean Payton said. “But there are a lot of people back home, who were a big part of this season, who experienced a greater pain that won’t go away.”
Well, let me try to take the pressure off of the Saints.
New Orleanians have suffered defeats before. Forty years supporting a losing team didn’t stop fans from keeping the faith. Saints fans have always been among the most loyal and supportive of their team despite decades of losing. This year, the Saints finally proved that they can fight back from a near-death experience — maybe because they were near death. They played with the spirit of New Orleans pulsing through their veins, the funky rhythm of her culture setting the beat, and the bonds of community strengthening their play. The teams that could have done this throughout history are few to none. New Orleans inspires — it inspired the imaginations of the Saints to within one game of the Super Bowl. Just four teams were left standing at the end of the season — one of them was the Saints.
I salute the Saints for playing an extraordinarily successful season, for committing themselves to New Orleans, for being the vehicle of our hopes and prayers, and for keeping us in the consciousness of the nation when there is so much more to do.
God knows, New Orleanians aren’t strangers to adversity. I met a couple living just a football field’s length from the new sheetpiling at the breach in the 17th Street Canal levee wall. They know that their decision to be the first ones on their block to rebuild isn’t a rational proposition, but they felt that’s what they needed to do. They’re making a stand. They are model Americans. They possess the finest of the American pioneering spirit, forging a course of action in a hostile environment — not so much the natural environment, because that can be restored and improved — but a hostile policy environment, or should a I say a hostile anti-policy environment.
One of the scenes that strikes me anytime I travel out to Lakeview are all of the American flags. Even though their houses are completely gutted and abandoned, owners still leave American flags mounted in front of their homes. Some of the flags aren’t very well maintained, which I also find interesting. I know the flags aren’t intentionally neglected, but if citizens are having a hard time getting back into their homes because the federal government has yet to adequately live up to its responsibility, then the symbols of that power will inevitably fall into disrepair. It seems such a poignant sign of our times.
Before the Saints started winning, there seemed to be an unofficial war against New Orleans, in the midst of which, quietly, volunteers from around the country came here to help their fellow Americans get back on their feet again. The Saints played for those volunteers as well. Jarvis DeBerry:
When the hurricane struck, folks stranded here begged and screamed for the government to recognize them as Americans, to respond to the emergency with the appropriate urgency. Didn’t happen. Now, word is, we’re America’s Team.
More and more, we’re fighting as a team, staging the first phase of a nationwide revolt against the status quo. It’s becoming clearer to people around the country that as New Orleans goes, so goes the rest of the nation.
Just as Sean Payton groomed the Saints organization to eliminate prima donna players who put themselves before team, New Orleanians are organizing themselves with the support of fellow Americans around the country to eliminate prima donna partisans who put themselves and their friends ahead of citizens and country, and we’ve begun to operate as a team.
Sure, the Saints lost the NFC championship, but by playing as a team, they helped to win back New Orleans — an achievement far more worthy of our gratitude.
One of the things we saw the Saints do this year, for the first time in a long time, was to fight back in the second half, even when they were losing. It’s just half time in New Orleans. The Saints have another season to look forward to, and New Orleans still has a second half to look forward to.
More photos from my visit to Lakeview.
Ray in New Orleans — A message to the Who Dat nation
Ashley Morris — puke
Adrastos — bummer man