When Katrina struck in August 2005, about 80 percent of the city flooded. The population is still only 350,000, compared with the pre-storm level of 454,000, and some neighborhoods are still in ruins.
“We expect corruption, we expect mediocrity, we expect potholes,” said Sidney Arroyo, a local political consultant. “The Saints are showing us that just because it hasn't happened before doesn't mean it can't happen now. Anything's possible. It's bliss.”
The No. 1 bliss maker is No. 9 Drew Brees, the quarterback with the rocket arm.
He is himself a symbol of renewal. Brees got a second chance after suffering a serious injury while playing for the San Diego Chargers. After arriving in New Orleans in 2006, he and his wife restored an old hurricane-damaged house in the Uptown neighborhood, and his “Rebuilding Dreams” campaign raised more than $2 million for playgrounds, athletic fields and schools.
He said he believes it was more than coincidence that he ended up in New Orleans.
“Everything happens for a reason, you know? Seriously. It's a calling,” Brees said.
For long-suffering Saints fans, he looks a lot like a savior.
“If Jesus was on one side of the street and Drew Brees on the other, walking down Magazine Street today, I think more people would mob Drew Brees,” Angela Pate, a saleswoman at Storyville, a T-shirt shop, said with a laugh.
In suburban Metairie, where the Saints practice, Pam Randazza runs the Black and Gold Sports Shop, which specializes in all things Saints. She said the Saints spirit has replaced the sorrow of Katrina.
“We're past being, `Poor us,“' she said. “We're now the strong city and the strong team.”