MIAMI – It is well-known that New Orleans suffered one of America’s worst tragedies as a result of Hurricane Katrina.
The ongoing catastrophe in Haiti has brought back memories of what too many in the Big Easy endured (and are still enduring) four years after Katrina blasted the shores of Lake Pontchartrain and the weak New Orleans levee systems across the city.
The disaster left an incredible 400,000 people expelled from their homes in a forced evacuation. Eighty percent of the city was under water. Katrina is as much a feature of the new cityscape as Bourbon Street and the French Quarter, the memory of devastation and loss is still a major scar in the hearts and minds of those displaced.
Sure the Super Bowl is just entertainment, but the source of pride and relief that it has interjected into the Bayou faithful is real and tangible.
“All know New Orleans has been through a lot of tough times,” Saints running back Pierre Thomas said. “After Katerina slammed through here, I mean a lot of people gave up on New Orleans. However, the Saints’ fans have hung in there. They are the greatest fans in the world and it is great we could do something special for them.”
Added Super Bowl MVP quarterback Drew Brees: “Just to think of the road that we’ve all traveled to get to this point, how much adversity we faced along the way. People believed in us and gave us the strength to go out and do what we did tonight. We played for so much more than just ourselves. We played for our city, we played for the entire Gulf Coast region, and we played for the entire ‘Who Dat’ nation, who were behind us every step of the way.”
Concurred coach Sean Payton: “Just think a few years ago our home field (the Super Dome) had holes in the roof and used to be wet, but it is not wet anymore. The memory of so many struggling to survive makes this win a serious uplift for many in this area. This is for everybody in the city of New Orleans.”
Running Back Reggie Buch said that this victory was something bigger than football. He noted that the Saints elevation is part of the rebuilding process of New Orleans. “This was about the city of New Orleans,” he said, “and about the lives lost in Hurricane Katrina. Now I think New Orleans can exhale a little bit.”
I’ve been to the Cresant City twice since the water overflowed and claimed so many homes and lives. I saw entire neighborhoods, especially the 9th Ward, still looking like a Tomahawk missile slammed into it. Even worse, there are thousands of families that have generations who were born in the city, and most are still spread out throughout the United States trying to rebuild broken lives and dreams.
Researchers have postulateed that serious mental illnesses and suicides since 2006 through 2009 in the years following the hurricane have doubled. Some researchers indicated that half the region’s population has an anxiety or mood disorder, and that one out of every three citizens is currently dealing with post-traumatic stress.
Not to over state the impact of sports; however, there is a body of evidence that suggesting unifying behind a home team on a hot streak has positive mental, physical, and even economic benefits.
The Super Bowl is just a game, but all the Saints fans I talked to after the game in collective unison exclaimed that the Saints’ win was a building block for the area populace to regenerate their spirits and hopes for the future.
Those of us who were not affected by Katrina, in no way can really understand what it is like to have everything you own dissipate in the blink of an eye and have to uproot entire families.
“It was all meant to be; it’s all destiny,” said a visibly emotional Brees. “We knew that we had an entire city and maybe an entire country behind us. I’ve tried to imagine what this moment would be like for a long time, and it’s even better than expected. Words just can’t describe it. When you think back to four years ago, coming back here post-Katrina . . . I could never have imagined that things would have worked out the way that they have.”
Leland Stein can be reached at email@example.com.