New Orleans is filled with anticipation because the Saints are playing the New England Patriots tonight on national TV. Of course, we'd like to continue our undefeated streak and all. But, really, the game is more about proving that we're really as good as folks are saying. Tonight is our Big Moment, and everyone is hoping we can seize that moment.
After Katrina the city was filled with despair. The Saints' owner supposedly wanted to move the team to San Antonio, but the league blocked him. The last Monday Night Football game that can be compared to this one is when the Saints played Atlanta in 2006. We were supposed to lose that game, but we came out on fire and that big win became the catalyst for an amazing season, which ended when we lost to Chicago. After that we went back to struggling.
But now, we've stopped struggling.
Tonight is the bookend to that 2006 Monday Night game. And people are fired up!!! The great thing about New Orleans is that no one has to explain how to get ready for an event like this. People just know, and adjust without thinking much about it. Celebrating is something we do the same way that water rolls off of a duck's back.
This morning as I was driving my daughter to school, heading down Magazine Street, I saw a woman walking her labrador and the dog was wearing a large Saints jersey. It seemed awkward, but obviously the dog was used to wearing it. Now, mind you, this is at 8 in the morning and the game isn't until 7 tonight. If you walk around it feels like it's the day before Mardi Gras.
People have been preparing for this for a long time, in many cases for their whole life. My dad had season tickets when the Saints first organized and I was at every game in the early years. I saw John Gilliam run back the opening kickoff of our first regular season game against the Rams. Things went mostly downhill from there. We had some bright spots (e.g. when Tom Dempsey kicked the 63 yard field goal against Detroit, which I was there for too). But mostly, it's been a struggle.
For years it was said that the Saints were cursed, or that the Superdome had inadvertently been built on an Indian gravesite. Well, tonight we'll see if the the curse has finally been lifted. A lot of good things have happened in New Orleans since Katrina. But the good things don't seem to get as much press as the bad stuff (e.g. like our loud-mouth, brain-impaired mayor, or the corrupt politicians who store money in their freezers). Tonight we have a chance for the world to see us as we really are: dedicated, hard-working and enthusiastic about life.
If the Saints win tonight it will be an immediate holiday. I remember what it felt like when the Katrina winds were howling around my dad's condo, and I bet that tonight will feel lot like that. I'll be at the game tonight wearing my special T-shirt that I got at the Dirty Coast T-Shirt shop on Magazine St. The slogan on the T-shirt is something that only people who have lived in New Orleans would understand (or people who have spent a lot of time at Jazz Fest).
So if you understand what it means to miss New Orleans, and to live with her through her epic struggles, then you'll understand what tonight is all about. This is more than a football game. This is a moment of truth. Tonight we won't be counting on any help from outside the city.
Tonight we'll help ourselves.