I expected jubilation.
After a long 43-year drought of not playing in The Big Game, how could I not be overjoyed with finally making the scene in such grand fashion? Not limping in. Not having some team lose in order for us to back into a berth in the playoffs. No, sir, we earned this place in our history from the opening kickoff of the 2009-10 season. We lit up scoreboards all over America, not the least the scoreboard here at home in our Dome. We played in front of national audiences on several occasions and raised eyebrows in such cities as Boston, New York, Phoenix and Minnesota –– worthy opponents indeed and all considered serious contenders.
It is the season we all dreamed about, hoped for, prayed for … for a very long time.
So yes, I expected jubilation.
What I did not expect was introspection.
This event, caused by a sporting club made up of gentlemen who represented themselves and us with honor, has forced open an honest self-examination among loyal fans, putting us and our feelings squarely under the microscope.
The first thoughts we encounter are for what we have collectively been through as a community. We have endured an incredible event and its terrible aftermath. We have seen our city practically wiped off the globe in a matter of hours. We went from 2005 to 1865 between 5:30 a.m. and 3 p.m. on Monday, Aug. 29, four and half years ago.
Neighborhoods and neighbors were swept away. Ways of life that we had built and enjoyed and thought would never be denied to us were gone.
And we thought we had gotten over that, at least a little bit. But we were wrong to believe that the hurt was further down than it actually is. It still resides just below the surface.
Yes, we’re now accustomed to less convenience, but we’ve adjusted. We’ve become acclimated to passing houses that are still empty of loving families. We’re now attuned to looking across neighborhoods and seeing longer distances, no homes to block the way of the view –– and no trees either.
The Saints have forced us to look back and see where we are, as compared to where we had been and in many ways still are. Progress has been made, but only when compared to Aug. 30, 2005, not when compared to Aug. 30, 2004. We have reason to be proud of what our dedication and hard work have accomplished, but can we not also be a bit sad and reminded of what we had before The Storm?
The other thoughts of introspection are for those relatives and friends who are no longer in our lives. They are no longer in life. We think of our relationship with these loved souls and how we together used to feel about the Saints. Some of those folks loved this football team then as we love this team now. And there are others who grew tired of the weekly let-down and finally gave up the support and the energy.
We all believe that if those loving fans were here now, they would revel as we are. And we miss them even more for that emotion.
Over the past several days, I find people wanting to tell their tales of those who can’t tell their own stories. Somehow this football team has stirred memories, some frustrating, many wonderful, of how we shared years of expectations only to be let down by October –– or even in September.
The people of this great city have rightfully kept those passed souls in their thoughts these past few weeks. We have honored their allegiance, because they no longer can, to the colors of black and gold and to a symbol of the French monarchy, last seen in the late 18th century.
Even our daily newspaper has encouraged us to remember those who believed as much as we do in success on the gridiron but never had the joy of seeing what we are seeing.
I can’t imagine another community in this nation who would treat this moment as we are. We can’t get enough of each other. Hugging. Tears forming. Smiling. Simply enjoying.
The many stories being carried around the globe about our love affair with our team cannot truly communicate to readers, listeners and viewers what is going on here, unless those who receive the message are, or have been, here.
Today, every New Orleanian who has come home has made a conscious decision to live here, to contribute to the rebirth and the renovation of a town that desperately needed both five years ago.
We are carrying all the baggage for us and our ancestors of all those years, and we also carry the burden to remember.
So, yes, I expected jubilation. And I am grateful for the introspection. It’s not what I expected. But it is so New Orleans.