NEW ORLEANS — They ain't the Ain'ts anymore. And ain't that grand for New Orleans.
Football's once-hapless New Orleans Saints are on a roll at 11-0, lifting spirits in this hurricane-battered city four miserable, down-in-the-dumps years after Katrina. In fact, folks in the Big Easy are feeling so good about their team's chances that they are actually canceling or rearranging Mardi Gras events to keep Super Bowl Sunday clear.
“The whole city is floating right now. We're all on a cloud. Cloud nine,” said 68-year-old Lynn Compter, standing next to his mustard-yellow 1939 Chevrolet, which was decked out in fleurs de lis with the Saints' record in magnetic numbers on its doors. “The day after a win is like a steroid shot.”
Football is a passion that goes beyond words in Louisiana, where Y.A. Tittle, Billy Cannon, Eddie Robinson and the Manning family are legends. But Saints fever goes deeper than that.
With their come-from-behind wins and gritty play, the Saints have become symbols of hard work, toughness and camaraderie in a city that has seen all too much despair and backbiting.
“This team doesn't give up, even when they're behind. This team has been in every game,” said Lamar Callaway, a 69-year-old retired bridge inspector who lives in Lakeview, a New Orleans neighborhood badly flooded by Katrina. Plus, he said, the Saints offer a “break from the doldrums of rebuilding.”
The Saints were long one of the worst teams in the NFL, playing so badly that they became known as the “Ain'ts.” Since they started in 1967, they have never reached the Super Bowl, and they did not even have a winning season until 1987, the year Pope John Paul II celebrated Mass at the Superdome in September.
Since Katrina, the Saints have been a bright light amid the dreariness. The Superdome, where tens of thousands of people were trapped in the days after the storm, was repaired quickly and became a symbol of rebirth in 2006. Then, the Black and Gold did the unprecedented: They went to the conference championship in 2007.
This season, the team has taken it to a whole new level.
Everywhere, people are high-fiving and chanting, “Who dat say dey gonna beat dem Saints?!” Huge midnight crowds welcome the undefeated team at the airport after road games.
“I've collected every sports page with their win on it this year. I'm keeping them all. I've got my Saints flag in the window.