The Louisiana Superdome reopened its doors to the NFL and its home team, the New Orleans Saints on Sept. 25, for the first time since the end of the 2004 season, some 13 months ago.
The devastation of Hurricane Katrina left the Superdome in total disarray. After the 30,000 plus refugees finally left, it was even worse for wear. Nobody knew if it could be rebuilt. Nobody knew if another NFL game would be played there. But just over a year later, it happened.
“When people come in here and see what’s been done in less than a year’s time,” says Doug Thornton, the general manager of the building. “They are going to say, ‘If the Superdome can be rebuilt after that tremendous destruction, my house can be rebuilt, my neighborhood can be rebuilt and my city can be rebuilt.’ So much of this recovery is about confidence and belief. You’ve got to want it to happen. You’ve got to believe it. This is symbolism,” according to an article on ESPN e-Ticket.
And after hosting over 70,000 rabid Saints fans on Sept. 25 for the undefeated Saints home opener, not only is the Superdome back, but it seems like New Orleans is back also.
The game itself oozed dominance, which can also be said about how the city is rebounding from the disaster. The Saints made the visiting 2-0 Atlanta Falcons look like a down-on-their-luck excuse for an NFL team with the 23-3 thrashing they handed out. The score doesn’t portray the closeness of the game, as in actuality, it was much more distant than a 20-point separation.
In many ways, it was as though the city was playing with the Saints, making a victory for the Falcons an almost insurmountable task.
The Superdome was ready to explode in the hours leading up to the game and during the pre-game ceremony and entertainment (rock bands U2 and Green Day performed for the sold-out crowd), and the fuse was definitely lit at kick-off.
Things erupted about a minute and a half into the game when the Falcons were preparing to punt after going three-and-out on their first drive. Safety Steve Gleason shot up the middle and rushed to Falcons punter Michael Koenen. He dove straight at the ball and forced it backwards. Cornerback Curtis DeLoatch scooped up the ball on the Falcons goal line and rolled into the endzone for the first points of the game.
With the touchdown, the stadium went into a complete frenzy. The walls could barely hold the noise that was bellowing from each and every seat in the stands.
After the disaster of Hurricane Katrina, rebuilding the Superdome became one of the primary goals of the city. It is, after all, one of the most distinguishable parts of New Orleans skyline and has been since its opening in 1975. Rebuilding however, was no easy task.
The repairs were endless. Ten acres of roofing that were torn away by the storm needed to be replaced. Thirty percent of the ceiling tiles. Ninety-five percent of the carpeting that covered the field area was ruined and definitely unplayable. And they were only the visual concerns. There were countless other structural questions that needed to be answered before renovations could even be considered.
This goes without even mentioning the environment inside was deemed toxic because of leakage and left-over human waste from the thousands that sought refuge inside it’s concrete walls.
It took weeks of debate to decide whether it was worth rebuilding the stadium that seemed to have the life sucked right out of it along with the sections of ceiling, but the conclusion finally came that it would be restored to it’s original state, to be come a sort of model and example for the rest of the city, one whom everyone could follow.
The people involved in the decision didn’t just decide to have the stadium back at any time either, it would be opening day, Sept. 25. That gave them a little over 10 months to get everything done before the lights and cameras of Monday Night Football rolled into New Orleans.
It took a lot of work, by many different people, from many different organizations, but with Monday night’s victory as evidence, it all got done. Football returned to New Orleans and revitalized every one of its citizens.
What was most impressive about the game and it’s appearance on Monday Night Football, now on ESPN, was the fact that the return to the Superdome wasn’t just special to Saints fans.
The game drew the largest audience in the history of the sports network, and became the second most watched cable television show in history, registering on nearly 11 million television sets, which definitely signifies a broad interest for the unique situation.
In many ways, the Saints second touchdown can be looked at as a metaphor for the city itself and it’s revival. The offense executed a double reverse to wide receiver Devery Henderson who sprinted around a pursuing defender, past an excellent lead block set by Drew Brees, the quarterback no-less and barely reached the endzone. Creative and colorful idea and execution, hard work from everyone, and most of all, determination.
The Saints are back in the “Big Easy,” and both sides, the city and the team, wouldn’t want it any other way.
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