Fans Put Faith in a New Saint
Sunday, July 2, 2006
NEW ORLEANS Salvation arrived in the rain that night, driving into town past the ghostly husks of abandoned cars, shuttered housing projects and still-darkened office towers. It was exactly eight months to the day that the hurricane roared in from the gulf, and the skies had opened again.
But on this evening, there was rejoicing on the streets of the broken city. Reggie Bush had come to deliver them all.
Of course, he did not know this yet. All he realized as he rode in a limousine through the drizzle was that he had not been the first player taken in that day's NFL draft -- a surprise because he might just be the most exciting player to come out of college football in years. When he wasn't picked first, Bush was left to the New Orleans Saints. And here in a place so religious that in the days after the hurricane a man scaled a church tower and rang the bells manually to let everyone know God was watching, it was as if the miracle had at last arrived.
In LaPlace, Derrius Taylor, who left his house behind in four feet of water, screamed so loud the moment Bush became a Saint that his wife shouted down from upstairs: "Why are you making this noise? It's like you found Jesus!"
Derrius Taylor thought about this.
"We did," he cried. "We just got Jesus in cleats."
They rushed to buy tickets that weekend, even those with ruined houses and lives strewn across the front lawn found $200 to go in with a friend on season seats in the upper deck. Some 15,000 Reggie Bush T-shirts sold out on the day they were printed, and a few weeks later as Mayor C. Ray Nagin, in his inaugural address, began to list the reasons for hope, he gushed, "We have Reggie Bush!" then was drowned in applause.
But none of this was clear to the Redeemer himself until the limousine stopped at Emeril's restaurant that night and the people lined up outside saw the man in the suit and the Saints cap and began to shout. Then, as Reggie Bush walked inside, those who were there recalled, grown men leapt from their tables and women shrieked. The bewildered Bush turned to Saints Coach Sean Payton and mouthed the words, "Did you arrange this?"
Payton shook his head. "We're not that organized here," he said.
Only then did Reggie Bush begin to understand.
"That's crazy, they were calling me their savior," Bush said a few weeks after he had returned to Los Angeles, where he won two national championships and the Heisman Trophy for Southern California. "I don't think I'm their savior. I'm just a middleman. The savior is God for putting me in this position. So for them to call me, like, a savior? That I saved their lives?"
He shook his head. He sat on a chaise lounge outside the Loews Hotel in Santa Monica. Below him was the beach where they first filmed the television show "Baywatch." Beyond that roared the Pacific Ocean. His world is not real here with the hills and the breeze and the football dynasty gone mad. Somewhere in a 34-game winning streak, USC became a red carpet and valet extravaganza with a B-list Hollywood cast ringing the field, Snoop Dogg piling onto touchdown celebrations and the quarterback canoodling on Sunset with Paris Hilton.