Once again New Orleans is getting hit. And once again the Saints are nowhere to be found. They’ve left to attend some business. It’s not especially pressing business, but it must be dealt with nonetheless.
The last time the waters rose, the Saints team fled to the Bay Area in Northern California. They had a preseason game with the Raiders. But some things are different now. There are skins on the wall and a Lombardi in the case. The outlook is hopeful and the forecast doesn’t seem so cataclysmic.
Last time around there really was an Old Testament feel to it, wasn’t there? There was the immoral town that was ill-prepared for judgment. There was the football team with its legacy of losing. After the flood, the citizens would become refugees scattered throughout the country and their team would become nomads, wandering through San Antonio, Baton Rouge, the Meadowlands, and Mississippi, before returning home.
In the days before the storm, the 2005 Saints practiced at San Jose State, disconnected from the fate that would befall them and their city. It was a lethargic practice that lacked urgency and detail.
While his teammates went through the motions of the last preseason game, Joe Horn quietly seethed. Turns out the league’s biggest exhibitionist had a big heart. But his mind was elsewhere that day.
Moments after the Oakland game, Joe Horn stood in the littered locker room, speaking just below a shout. At his bare feet lay discarded athletic tape, game programs, empty Gatorade bottles, and soiled uniforms. In the middle of the debris Horn stood with one foot perched atop a metal chair, as if he wasn’t quite ready to stand up on a pulpit. Horn was upset that the good and desperate folks of New Orleans had been wrongly portrayed.
“Those people weren’t looting,” said an impassioned Horn. “They were surviving! Who cares if someone takes a pair of Air Jordans, or whatever... to put on their feet? They’re doing what they need to survive.”
It was rather powerful. Right then and there, Joe Horn, the league’s most notorious exhibitionist, became the most unlikely voice of reason.
He openly questioned the priorities of Saints owner Tom Benson “I don’t think we should have played this game,” said Horn. “We should have gone back home to help those people,”
And that’s exactly what they did. After returning to the Gulf, the Saints, led by Horn, visited makeshift shelters, official shelters, and the biggest place of shelter—the Dome.
You know the rest of the story. A year later, Sean Payton came to town, bringing discipline, a quarterback, and a shiny new bauble named Bush. The Saints lifted the city by the hand and with their level of play. Those who were spared by Katrina were soon afforded a championship team and all the rights that accompany such a thing.
In keeping with the narrative, Joe Horn never made it to the Promised Land. He’d had a falling out with Payton and later with the Saints organization. Before the Saints played the Vikings in the NFC title game, Horn wasn’t invited to be on the field. But like Moses himself, Horn was there, watching from a perch high above—the upper deck of the Super Dome to be exact.
The Saints won the Super Bowl, in the process saving…. I won’t say they saved New Orleans because they didn’t. No sports team is capable of such a thing. There are still FEMA trailers in the Ninth Ward. Not as many as there were, but they’re still there.
New Orleans had always partied, but when the party commenced, there was a purpose and a theme.
Now here we are again. Isaac is bearing down on New Orleans while the Saints are in Cincinnati, preparing for a game against the Titans in Nashville. But things back home don’t seem as dire. The slick legacy of Ray Nagin has been replaced by the family legacy of Mitch Landrieu. The levees and pump stations have been rebuilt and fortified. New Orleans doesn’t seem as “vulnerable.”
But now and again the good people still need to hear from those folks who have some sway. We’re not talking about elected officials handcuffed to party ideals, but guys with the loot and the stones to make a real difference.
Even before he received a small mint for his play, Drew Brees had already gotten his hands dirty. He teamed with Marshall Faulk, the most decorated citizen of the Ninth Ward and a former resident of the Desire Street Projects, to build a stadium in Faulk’s old neighborhood.
While Isaac descends on the city, it’ll be business as usual. There are times when Drew Brees conducts his business with a defiance that is reminiscent of Joe Horn. Brees has been at times, just as brazen as his predecessor. In defense of his teammates and the bounty scandal, Brees went right after Roger Goddell, even likening his evidence of the bounty scandal to evidence of the weapons of mass destruction.
The Saints ruthless defense may still be the topic of discussion, but ever watch Brees and that passing game? It’s relentless and unapologetic, predicated on attacking the seams. Watch the way Brees throws that quick post or bang 8. He loads up and steps into it like he’s throwing a freakin’ javelin.
There’s a New Testament quality to this thing now. It’s unavoidable—New Orleans, with all of its excess, just lends itself to hyperbole. The savior(s) haven’t been exactly crucified, but they have been widely castigated for their methods. But those who were spared by Katrina aren’t buying that. They know you don’t get anywhere in life by being nice.
Those people aren’t looting, they’re surviving.
Alan Grant was a four-year starter and all-conference player for Stanford University. He played five years in the National Football League with the Indianapolis Colts, San Francisco Forty Niners, Cincinnati Bengals, and Washington Redskins. He has written for ESPN the Magazine and The Postgame, and appears frequently on radio and television.