New Orleans still basking in afterglow of Saints' Super Bowl win

By Mark Maske
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 8, 2010; 10:19 PM


On a steamy, sunny Tuesday morning, workers behind a barricade that blocked off a side street were busy setting up equipment in a festival area alongside the Superdome called "Champions Square."

A sign in a nearby shop window read, "Thank you boys!" from the "Who Dat Nation." A celebratory billboard image of New Orleans Saints Coach Sean Payton towered above the corner of Poydras Street and Loyola Avenue, a few blocks from the dome.

There still is a decided afterglow in New Orleans from the Saints' stirring run to their first Super Bowl title, in their first Super Bowl appearance, last season. The team's attempt to produce a proper encore begins with the NFL's opening game, at home Thursday night against the Minnesota Vikings and their quarterback, Brett Favre, a nationally televised rematch of last season's NFC title game.

But the story line changes for the Saints as this season begins. Last season they were the loveable losers made good, a symbol of rebirth for a city and a region still working its way back from the destruction of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

The hardships have continued with the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, and the Saints remain a rallying point, a source of civic pride. But the connection to the "Aints" of the past, the franchise that once was a laughingstock, is an ever-fading memory. These Saints are champions.

"The aura is different now," Victor Lewis, a former physical education teacher, said Tuesday as he walked past downtown shops, wearing a Super Bowl champions shirt. "We were loving the Saints when they were losing, when they were nothing, when they were like dirty drawers. Now that we're the champs, it's big. After the hurricane, after the BP episode, we bonded even more. People thought we'd be wiped off the face of the earth, but we're still here. And now people have to deal with the Saints."

All around town, Saints fans said they're convinced the club is capable of another Super Bowl run. But some acknowledged that even if this season ends with another huge celebration in the French Quarter, it still won't be quite the same as what last season produced.

"I think it'll be a little different," said Anthony C. Robishaux, who said he has been following the Saints since Archie Manning was the team's quarterback in the 1970s.

"The last time, a lot of people weren't expecting it," said Robishaux, wearing the No. 55 jersey of linebacker Scott Fujita, who departed for Cleveland in the offseason. "People didn't believe it would happen. It won't be the same like that again."

Even if the dynamic is a bit different now, however, the bond between the team and city remains as strong as ever, locals said.

"The Saints are a team where the fans and the team are like family," said Lewis, a New Orleans native who lived in San Francisco after Katrina but returned. "On most NFL teams, they just play for the organization. There's no mingling with the fans or conversing with the community. Here the team and the fans are like mother and child."

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