I was 15 years old when Hurricane Katrina came through and devastated New Orleans, LA. My mother and I had lost our home nearly a year prior and kept most of our belongings in our car while bouncing from place to place to sleep. Leading up to August 23, 2005- the date my mother and I realized we had no way to leave, we had no true routine. I was in the process of recovering from an August 15th surgery to remove a benign brain tumor and had to manage our lives around what strength remained in both of us. When the hurricane finally hit us, we didn’t have the resources to leave. We were fortunate enough to be over in the Westbank before the storm, an area that avoided much of the flooding. So, we braved it. A decision that will go on to resonate with me for the rest of my life. That choice shaped me. We survived. Which cannot be said for all of us that had no other choice but to brave it. Many New Orleanians are subject to conditions that define them. Call it gentrification or whatever you want now. Back then, we called it being “trapped.” Being trapped took a new kind of shape throughout the weeks during and following Katrina. We went from having no choice to having no hope. We clung on to what we could for inspiration during a time in which we were convinced that no one cared about us. (Outside of those we saw with relief efforts.)
A week or so after the hurricane cleared, my mother and I found ourselves living in a tent near Lafayette, LA. A small town called Arnaudville. We were given money by some folks with the relief efforts so that we’d money to drive north, so we did. During that time I would listen to the radio in an attempt to hear about something not hurricane-related. But to no avail. Even the AM radio talk stations were talking about how the New Orleans Saints were displaced. Where was the 2005 season to be played? How long will they stay in San Jose, CA? Soon the talks turned to a relocation thanks to lease disputes with Louisiana a few months earlier. Regardless of where they were though, we were just glad they were going to keep playing.
For the entire 2005 season we watched a New Orleans Saints team go out on the field and fight without having a home field to play on. Much like ourselves. Throughout that season many Saints players also made their way back to New Orleans to assist in the relief. Joe Horn has openly talked about how people stranded on bridges and in the Superdome would always ask about how the team was doing, if we were going to win against Carolina- a division rival, and so on. On September 11, the 2005 season opener weeks after the hurricane, the Saints did just that. They edged the Panthers 23-20 at Carolina. They survived. We went on to go 3-13 that season but every game played felt like a win for the young 15/16-year-old trying to figure out what was going to happen next.
I ended up being welcomed back to school, after having dropped out years ago, at Cecilia High School. Go Bulldogs. My mother and I were taken in by a family that was kind enough to give us a safe place to sleep and a place to call home. Without these instances, I’d never have known that was a chance that I could rebuild. Rebuild the same way that the city of New Orleans did leading up to the Saints’ home return to the Superdome on September 24, 2006. With a new coach and new QB to lead us, we all had hope again as fans. For some of us, that hope correlated with our own lives. The Rebirth took place on the hands of Steve Gleason with 13:35 remaining in the first quarter of that fateful game against the Falcons. My Rebirth took place with it. Even though I may never get to thank him in person, I hope this write-up does it justice. Because maybe not at the same time, but for the first time, I remembered what pure, unfiltered hope felt like.
Often, sports fans are criticized for being barbaric, violent, belligerent, and unintelligent. Those who criticize us simply don’t understand the importance of how a team can affect one’s life. Whether through their on-field play or their off the field actions, one thing is for sure- the New Orleans Saints affected the entire Nation between 2005 and the conclusion of the 2006 season when they reached the NFC Championship Game for the first time in their history.
Any citizen of New Orleans throughout Katrina would have felt like an 0-16 team more than a 3-13 one. But the Saints’ turnaround was a perfect analogy for the strength and resilience of an entire region. A few years later, they won a Superbowl. An achievement that was said to be unreachable for the team. That was months after I started college. An achievement I was often told I’d never accomplish in my life. I can’t credit the team for pushing me to navigate all of the adversity I faced in my lifetime. That credit goes to my amazing mother. But I can credit them for reminding us all that there is always a chance to succeed in even the most dire circumstances. We ask all the time, “Who dat?” and the answer is and forever will be, “We dat.”