Hope is inevitable in sports. What makes hope in sports unique is that it is often directly transferred from the fans to the athletes and then onto the team. This hope can blanket entire cities, or even countries. Consider the popularity of World Cup soccer or American football. Athletes can embody the hope of many and transform this hope into something much larger; they are able transcend their mere human status and become immortalized as heroes. It seems to me that people often live their hopes (and personal troubles) through athletes or sports teams. We humans tend to dream big through sports and see athletes as our warriors. We expect them to push the boundaries of their physical and mental strength, as well as the human spirit on our behalf, and we are uplifted when they do so.
I was born and raised in New Orleans, La. Trust me when I say, there are few cities with more pride than New Orleans. I have experienced first-hand the role that sports can play in uplifting a group; for instance, when the New Orleans Saints won the Super Bowl in 2009. In my opinion, it’s a great example of the effect that sports can have on the human spirit and how much faith and hope sports can instill among people and, in the case of the Saints, how successfully sports can bring a city together.
The Saint’s Super Bowl victory was only four short years after Hurricane Katrina, which devastated the city. Before 2009, the Saints were a terrible football team, not to trash my own team, but it’s the truth. The franchise began in 1969 and the team had disappointed fans for years. In 2006, the year following Katrina, the Saints, like the city of New Orleans, were a mess. A total mess. Yet, the fans kept coming to games and supporting a team that always came up short. The team was coming off the 3-13 debacle loss from the previous season which was unfortunately spent in San Antonio where they were relocated due to the storm. That year, the franchise fired head coach Jim Haslett and hired Sean Payton as head coach to take his place. The team also signed Drew Brees as quarterback. Brees was still recovering from major shoulder surgery and there was no assurance of his successful recovery from such surgery. Meanwhile, Commissioner Paul Tagliabue was working with the Saints’ owners to do everything imaginable to keep the franchise in New Orleans. If the Saints had left town and relocated to San Antonio during this difficult hurricane-recovery period, the city and all its sports’ fans would have suffered yet another blow. A lot was happening for a franchise that had never accomplished much. Despite all the team’s turmoil, the City of New Orleans still harbored hope of a one day–soon to come–victory.
In 2009, the city of New Orleans remained on a very slow road to recovery. Yet for some inexplicable reason, just about every New Orleanian seemed to pin their hopes on the Saints that year. Psychologically, the Saints meant everything to the city. It was as if we believed that the Saints’ success was directly correlated to our recovery. At the very least, they served as a good distraction from reality. When they started having success early on in their season, the city’s “hope antennae” perked up to an all-time high. The Saints were the talked-about sensation in the city. When their success continued, it was as if a city meeting or poll had been held that unanimously voted the Saints as the gauge of the city’s ability to bounce back. It was in many ways the miracle that we needed to forge ahead with our rebuilding efforts. They became our mascot. My high school changed our class bell chime to the Saints anthem. Every New Orleanian was constantly decked out in black and gold. A Saints’ jersey was a “must” wardrobe item and hot commodity. On game days the city essentially shut down. And when the Saints secured the Super Bowl victory, the city went insane! People immediately poured into the streets that night and began to celebrate together. New Orleans threw its own separate Mardi Gras Parade for the Saints. It was quite fitting. People made a shrine outside of the Saints quarterback Drew Brees’s home. The iron fence in front of his house was completely covered with cards, children’s drawings, letters, stuffed animals, photographs and other things. It was truly something. My grandmother, an elderly woman in her 90’s, was overjoyed when she was able to try on a Saints Super Bowl ring and actually hold the trophy (with a great deal of assistance). To my knowledge, my grandmother had never been to a Saints game or the Dome, but she too was totally wrapped up and carried away in the Saints fever.
The victory of the Saints at the 2009 Super Bowl was one that was bound to happen eventually– the fans “hoped” it into being. They were relentless and never gave up. The fans were as demanding of themselves in this belief of victory as the fans are demanding of the athletes to push their limits of physical achievement. The victory was wonderful too because it truly helped propel New Orleans into the full recovery mode after Hurricane Katrina. Once the impossible–a Super Bowl victory–was achieved by the Saints, all of the fans knew without a doubt that recovery was not only possible, but within our grasp.