i want to be in that number


Tonight my beloved New Orleans Saints took on the Atlanta Falcons on Monday Night Football, and it was one of those historic games that will be mentioned for the kind of impact a crowd has on the outcome of a sport. This was the first game to actually be played in New Orleans since Katrina hit, 23 games ago. The Saints won 23-3, and thunderous ecstasy was heard from the same seats where entire families lived for weeks surrounded by filth and excrement. Tonight wasn’t just a win, it was a rebirth.

The emotion of the players reminded me of another game we all saw in 1990, when Loyola Marymount met Michigan in the NCAA tournament. LM’s best player, a kid named Hank Gathers, had just died mid-game in their own tournament, and the rest of the team bounced back with a performance that was so unbelievable, so unconscious, so thirty-foot-swishes, that you believed them to be temporarily touched by the God of their choice. They upset Michigan, the defending champions, 149-115.

Tonight, the Saints played with the kind of fury reserved for a team whose town almost died. While the offense performed admirably, it was New Orleans’ defense that seemed to be an extension of the 50,000 faithful who packed the Superdome; every wide receiver was covered like white on rice, with Michael Vick becoming a human piƱata.

If you saw the Superdome a year ago, it looked like it needed to be imploded into the ground and the land sold for parking. Thank god nobody listened to the naysayers and the place was built up again, better than new. Monday night’s telecast even featured past moments from the Dome’s history, including (you guessed it) Michael Jordan’s “The Shot,” and Dean Smith cutting down the nets.

After 9/11, New York turned to its sports teams for a measure of succor: they had the Mets, Yankees, Jets, Giants, Knicks, Nets and Rangers. New Orleans has only the Saints. Now that half the population lives elsewhere, they needed this victory, and the rest of the season (we’re now 3-0) as a signal that New Orleans isn’t going anywhere. No offense to Atlanta fans, but in a game that usually disintegrates into money, thuggery and gracelessness, this was a victory won by a team who deserved it more: a town with a horrible wound, trying desperately to cobble together its soul.


a pregnant Tessa and me, New Orleans Superdome, October 2004

0 thoughts on “i want to be in that number

  1. emma

    I am not a ECU pirate fan as I bleed Carolina blue, but I was living in Greenville when Hurricane Floyd came through in 1999. The people who had houses that didn’t flood did not have electricity and the Pirates were playing (you guessed it) the Miami Hurricanes in football. The students had been evacuated, the campus area was hit particularly hard. So many of these football players didn’t know where they would be living the next week, but down in Miami, they managed to win a great football game – a game they weren’t supposed to win. Sports is(?) a funny thing – theoretically its just a game, but the hope and the winning feeling it can give people shows that realistically sports can be much more than a game.

  2. chip

    The game you are thinking of was held in Raleigh, NC at NC State’s Carter-Finley Stadium. I know because I worked at the game for ESPN. ECU fell behind but made a furious comeback during the second half. I just remember the stadium literally vibrating and swaying during the entire fourth quarter. It was one of the more inspiring sporting events I’ve ever seen, and certainly the most inspiring I’d seen in person.
    Geaux Saints!

  3. Bozoette Mary

    This game was simply thrilling on so many levels. Even though I’m a die-hard fan of the burgundy-and-gold, tonight I rooted for the Saints. And I’ll continue to root for them all this season.

  4. emma

    Chip – You are right about the ECU-Miami game being held at Carter – Finley, a place that the Pirates are not usually warmly received. I need to get a fact checker for my blog comments! We watched the game in a neighbor’s house (who we never met before the hurricane), because he was the only one in the neighborhood who had a generator.

  5. tregen

    Great piece Ian, but the race is not to the swift… the place is built on doomed ground. Rising sea levels, super hurricanes, etc. will constantly stalk this city.
    While I love NO, it is time to stop the madness and move / raise the city and let nature take it’s course.

  6. GFWD

    For a kid from Iowa, I’m rather impressed that you’ve held such a fancy for New Orleans in your heart, Ian.
    It’s always been Grandma’s house to me. My parents were born and raised there. It’s a great city. For the Tar Heels, as you mentioned, it’s been the site for two of our national championships, where stars like Worthy, Jordan and Donald Williams became legends.
    Last night’s game does not change anything about the horrific sights in New Orleans. I was there around Thanksgiving last year and for Jazzfest this year. The photos and video still do not do justice to the breadth of the destruction. At times when you are driving through what used to be a large city, it looks like the post-apocalyptic scenes from The Terminator.
    The residents of New Orleans are crippled by their leaders and government. And, surprisingly, from other parts of America, it seems that many of the residents in New Orleans still get little in the way of sympathy because they live in a city below sea level. Yet you never hear people from New Orleans criticize mid-westerners for living in tornado alley or off the Florida coast or on the volcanic Hawaiian islands.
    But I digress, it was nice to see sports and music (America’s great unifiers) come together last night to shine a bright light on New Orleans. Anyone else catch the irony of having the Euros whip the Americans in the Ryder Cup in Ireland on Sunday only to see four Irish lads–arguably the greatest rock band in the world–rock out with Green Day to bring awareness to the ongoing tragedy in New Orleans? It was a beautiful day, indeed.
    One thing that the announcers and commercials kept hyping is true. Go visit. See for yourselves the destruction. And then go down to the French Quarter–which remained largely untouched–and “laissez les bon temps roullez!”
    It’s a great city.

  7. Tanya

    I saw the first part of the game last night, including the effusive, over-the-top, ridiculous pre-game saccharine leading up to kick off. GAH. Almost couldn’t watch the game itself. I understand the magnitude of the game, I understand the implications, the need for a city to get back to “normal” and play on their own turf, the history of the building, etc, etc, etc. But nearly 2 hours of Bob Costa-like droning? For crying out loud. If anything, all the pre-game syrup turned me off. I found myself switching over to Entertainment Tonight and Antiques Roadshow when the “moving music” began to swell and “touching tributes” went on for more than about 10 minutes, just to come up for air.
    You can call me heartless. I will assure you that I am not. But for Christ’s sake – last night was over the top.
    That being said, I can’t imagine any team willing to play the Saints in the first game back in the Superdome. Credit Atlanta for letting the Saints have their much-deserved night.

  8. Sean Williams

    It always surprises me when people say stuff like “the hours of pre-game syrup turned me off”… you really didn’t have to watch a single second of it. You could have turned *it* off. I didn’t watch a second of it, but I did watch the game.
    The blocked punt 90 seconds in was amazing, but to have a blocked field goal in the same half was astounding. The Saints had a couple of things go their way, but man, they put the hammer down on Atlanta. Atlanta didn’t let them have anything, The Saints took the game and won it.
    It is important. The places where people gather to watch an event, that is the by-product of a community, that is what it is to live in a place.
    Oh, and Deb, I’m sorry about your Bucs. That kid showed a lot of heart playing with a burst spleen, but you guys are screwed.

  9. Tanya

    You don’t need to be surprised, Sean, I think I said that I *did* turn it off – and watched Entertainment Tonight and Antiques Roadshow. I kept thinking the game was going to start, and I was trying to catch the start of the game while feeding a child, bathing a child and cleaning up after a child. My point was that I thought the pre-game show was over the top. And effusive. Etc.
    Damn, I sound like Matt.

  10. John Schultz

    I’m thrilled to see NO back in action. Nothing makes me smile more. But I’m with Tanya on this one. It was over the top last night. I just turned off the sound and watched the game.
    Given how the Falcons dismantled the Panthers only to be rocked by NO, it looks like it is going to be a long season in Carolina.

  11. NOLAcathie

    I have no idea what the future holds for our beloved city, but for the first time in a year there was that joyous spirit in total community that makes N.O. unique. People were able to forget their cares and come together to cheer for a team that they rarely see win, much less with such elan as last night. Last night New Orleanians were walking on air.
    Tregen since I don’t know you I hope you’ll pardon my forwardness in asking if you meant “raise” or “raze” New Orleans? It matters!
    Maybe it’s precisely because we know our ancestors built this city on “doomed ground” that we are able to live in this madness, forget our cares, and truly appreciate the essentials in life such as friends, family, food, and music. Life in the Crescent City is rarely boring and I’m sure the good times will one day roll again.

  12. scruggs

    Emma/Chip: Its been a while, so I may have blended a few games but was that game at Carter-Finley the one where ECU fans then stormed the field and tore down the goalpost(s). Just curious as I seem to remember some State folks were grumpy about it but it seemed comical that it was a “borrowed” field.

  13. emma

    Scruggs – I believe that ECU tore down the goalposts at Carter-Finley when they beat State. This may have been in 88 or 89 and then State refused to play ECU for awhile and then the legislature actually had to pass a law requiring State to play ECU. As I said earlier, sports is funny!

  14. scruggs

    Emma…funny, my husband says it happened twice!
    from this article I just found
    “For their part, the Pirates have sometimes themselves been the ones who have infuriated their neighbors in the Piedmont. Their fans are loud and proud, which is not bad, but they can also show an ugly side from time to time. In the 1980’s, ECU and NC State played an annual football game, and in 1987, the Pirates’ fans tore down the goalposts in Carter-Finley stadium after their team had beaten the Wolfpack. A near riot erupted, and arrests were made. Oddly though, none of those arrested were ECU students or alumni — they were just fans out of control. ECU was nonetheless blamed in the minds of Wolfpack fans, and to this day, the subject comes up from time to time. Then, when NCSU lent the Pirates their stadium to play Miami in (Ficklen Stadium was damaged due to a hurricane) and the Pirate fans again struck, tearing down the goalposts when they defeated the (cough) Hurricanes. ECU laudibly paid for any damage, but again the ire of Wolfpack fans were raised. And Pack fans have a long memory — ask Dean Smith.”

  15. emma

    Ah, yes. It all comes back to me now. I always cheer for State over ECU, but I didn’t like the way State responded to the ECU fans in 99. Interesting how the article brings in the Dean.


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