Everyone in New Orleans is feverishly preparing. To say that people are ‘bursting with joy’ would be a lame understatement. Everyone is dressed up in Saints jerseys: at school, at work, at bars, at church, and at funerals. It’s not unusual to see entire families (mom, dad, three young kids) all wearing black and gold as they climb into an SUV that has more flags than the United Nations. Except all the flags are the same. The family pulls out of their driveway and cruises along St. Charles Avenue where the traffic moves slowly because few stoplights work. All of the cars have Saints flags, so it looks more like a parade than a traffic jam.
Inside the cars and on the streets folks are smiling like disciples of Reverend Moon. Suddenly, they’re oblivious to the rampant crime wave. The debris piles don’t exist. What hurricane? The local news no longer reports bad news; they only talk about the Saints. Special guests appear one after another: Omar the Tent Man, a guy from St. Bernard with the lucky ticket stub from the first Saints game ever (the one where John Gilliam ran back the opening kickoff for a touchdown), and some sixth graders who seem confused that Christmas is here again. It’s cold outside and I’m wondering what the weather here will be like tomorrow. The local news won’t tell me. The weather segment is all about analyzing the latest meteorological data for conditions at Soldier Field on game day.
Dwight Eisenhower didn’t spend this much time analyzing the weather before he invaded Normandy.
We’re now officially a religious cult. We have placid smiles and greet each other as though we live in an orderly Amish village. We believe something will soon raise us up to The Promised Land and make us radiant. It’s all so weird. What will salvation feel like? Will we see our loved ones again? Surely we’ll see Buddy Diliberto, the tongue-tied sportscaster who rebuked naive fans who dared to dream of the Saints going to the Superbowl. Will Buddy have the dress that he promised to wear if the Saints ever made it there?
It’s cold here, and hazy too. But many of us can make out something shimmering in the distance. We know it’s probably a mirage but we’re all moving forward together, and it feels good.
Seventeen months ago the city was invaded by waters filled with despair, but tomorrow we might find our city raised above sea-level, gently buoyed by an invisible wave of joy. We’ve spent 40 years hoping, sputtering, obsessing, imagining, praying, dreaming that it would happen, and yet not one of us has managed to develop a
plan to deal with this completely insane notion: the Saints might actually wind up in the Superbowl.
I’ve learned not to speculate about the future, but if they win it’s possible Mardi Gras will start a couple of weeks early. How long it might last is anyone’s guess.