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Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Superdome Opens To New Orleans Saints and America - Saints Clobber Falcons In First Game Back

This was an amazing event. Here's a video and an account of the scene.

Super Bowl atmosphere, perfect finish in Big Easy

Sep. 26, 2006
By Mike Freeman
CBS SportsLine.com National Columnist
Tell Mike your opinion!

NEW ORLEANS -- Sporting a flaming light gold suit and dark top hat that stood tall and stiff on his head, Joe Horn sauntered into the Superdome several hours before kickoff as he has done many times before. This day, however, was different.

WR Joe Horn has become a favorite in New Orleans. (Getty Images)
Horn, along with superstar Reggie Bush, has been adopted by the city as favorite sons, cherished for their charity work in post-Hurricane Katrina. In reaching out, Horn and Bush did not send checks from the safety of their estates or dispatch bubbly flaks to do their PR work. They got their hands dirty. They dropped in on pulverized neighborhoods, handed out food and rebuilt lives.

The Saints arranged for players to take a different way into the stadium than normal, one that had them walk purposely through a gauntlet of fans. When Horn approached wearing his pimp daddy fits circa Etta James, he stopped several times to accept dozens of pats on the back and high-fives from fans leaning over a security barricade to touch their hands on a hero.

On this night, a night unlike any other in sports history, the New Orleans Saints players were the rock stars, bigger celebrities than even mega-groups U2 and Green Day, who performed onstage together prior to the Saints facing Atlanta in a tribute to the city of New Orleans.

The game itself, almost lost in the nuclear intensity that was the Superdome's reopening, was destined to end up just one way -- and it did, but it was New Orleans winning 23-3 before 70,003 wildly geeked fans.

The Falcons stepped in the way of history and were squashed.

As if scripted by some otherworldly force, the Saints are 3-0. Just how un-freakin'-believable is that?

"The fans were great," said Horn. "We knew they would be here in force to support us and we didn't want to let them down.

"I was focused on the job at hand, but I was also focused on the emotion of the fans," said Horn. "If I had witnessed what happened here at the dome, I probably wouldn't have come back."

Horn said he in fact spoke to fans that were trapped inside the quickly decaying dome during Katrina who would not come back because the memories were still too fresh. They planned to watch the game on television.

The Saints were powered by an emotional, almost nationalistic sunburst. No team might have beaten the Saints on this night. Not the 1960s Green Bay Packers or the Joe Montana San Francisco 49ers. No team.

When the game was over, about 50,000 fans remained in the stands, dancing and cheering for several minutes. Coach Sean Payton dedicated a game ball to the Saints fans.

"We said, 'The only way this night was going to be special was if we win this game,'" said quarterback Drew Brees.

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As someone that has covered a number of Super Bowls, the grandest of sporting events in this country, this game had that same feel. Perhaps because so many people thought this night would never happen. Or maybe because for a few hours, this city, much of it still in ruins, all this time later, can enjoy a basic human impulse perhaps not felt in many months here, and that is the spine-tingling sensation of forward momentum, the rhapsody of a new day.


The game itself, the actual football, almost did not matter. The moment did. When you rank all of the great moments in the history of American sports, this will stand solidly among them.

Two and three hours before the game, crowds of humanity, tens of thousands of people, were drinking and laughing in the streets around the dome. It was a party, a celebration. They stayed close to the dome, almost hugging it, never wanting to lose site of it.

Ironic, isn't it? Just over a year ago 30,000 people were cursing the place when it was utilized as an emergency shelter. It was a house of horrors. It was called by some the Island of Katrina because rivers of water flowed onto the streets around it. Then, people were trying to get as far away from the place as they could, both physically and mentally.

On its reopening Saints fans chugged beers and sang songs throughout the Superdome's corridors. They were again in love with one of the symbols of their city. They were no longer ashamed of it.

When former commissioner Paul Tagliabue, a key component in the rebuilding of the dome, was asked if he was surprised that this night had come, he said, "In one sense I am astonished because it represents such a tremendous amount of work, the coming together of tens of thousands of people and their spirit and their resilience. So in one sense, like I say, I am astonished. In another sense, it is what we all hoped would happen."

Once the contest began, there was so much emotion vibrating throughout the dome. Some of the Saints players and coaches became overwhelmed by it. A blocked punt for a touchdown, followed by a Devery Henderson 11-yard run, and two John Carney field goals of 37 and 51 yards gave the Saints a 20-3 halftime lead. When the Falcons tried to gather at least an ounce of momentum with a Morten Andersen (yes, that Morten Andersen, the former Saint) field goal, that too was blocked.

"Right out the gate," Horn said, "we wanted to make a statement that we were here to play."

One Saints player was too pumped, however. Curtis Deloatch, in the second quarter, shoved Atlanta runner Jerious Norwood long after Norwood was out of the field of play. The game official flagged Deloatch for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.

Immediately after that, Payton, in an inexcusable fit of rage, twice accosted Deloatch on the Saints sideline, in full view of the television cameras, by shoving him hard in the upper body area. It was the only lowlight on the night that contained a zillion highlights.

The Falcons had Michael Vick, an NFL force, but everything went the way of the Saints. Not even his Roger Rabbit quicks could stop the inevitable. The blocked punt for a Saints score, a key early drop by tight end Alge Crumpler, the blocked field goal, a made long field goal by the Saints and a pass interference call on the Saints later reversed. It was one piece of good fortune followed by another.

It was karma. Or maybe since the game was in New Orleans, it was voodoo.

Whatever it was, Saints fans will take it, on this, a truly joyous and unforgettable night in which everyone, for a short time, was a Saints fan.


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