Faith: The Storm, The City, & The Saints

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New Orleans flooded after Hurricane Katrina

On August 29, 2005 New Orleans and the entire Gulf Coast was hit with a Category 3 hurricane named Katrina. No one knew the damage that this storm would leave behind. It demolished an entire city and region. Everything that people knew was gone. The city of New Orleans was underwater. Homes and businesses were gone. And, unfortunately, a significant number of people lost their lives. To the outside world, New Orleans was down and out. A city that could never recover. The odds were definitely against the people of The Big Easy. But what they didn’t realize was that the citizens of New Orleans have one thing that wouldn’t let them give up. One thing that helped shine a light in these dark times. It is something that will always hold this city together no matter what. And that one thing is Faith.

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Coach Jim Haslett and the Saints leave the Louisiana Superdome field for the last time in 2005

I have lived all my life in a town called Houma, which is roughly 60 miles to the southwest of New Orleans. But I have visited New Orleans frequently and love everything about the city. It is filled with great culture, amazing food, and plenty of places to get an ice cold beer. But the one thing I love the most about New Orleans is our Saints. I remember watching the Saints vs. Ravens preseason game on August 26, 2005 at a friend’s apartment. It was an ugly game, but little did we know it would be the last Saints game played at the Louisiana Superdome in a long time. Just a few days later, the Saints home field would be filled with people trying to escape the wrath of one of Mother Nature’s deadliest storms.

The 2005 Saints season would continue in disarray as the team played “home games” at Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge, the Alamodome in San Antonio, and even at Giants Stadium in New Jersey. They finished the season with a 3-13 record and who could really blame them. The city was still down and reeling from Katrina’s damage. People were trying to recover, but this was a unique situation that everyone had to cope with. I watched as news programs covered the horrors left from the storm. Then I watched as some people made matters worse by looting and continuing to commit crimes while the city was in dire needs. And finally, I watched as the police forces and FEMA failed to help all the people that needed their assistance.

Doubt filled the air all around. Even I wondered how a city could rebound from such destruction. The city was in shambles. Our annual parties known as Mardi Gras parades were in doubt. The Saints were seemingly playing everywhere except New Orleans. And talks loomed of the team leaving New Orleans for good. The New Orleans Hornets spent most of two seasons in Oklahoma City. Tulane University had to relocate all of their sporting events. Six Flags New Orleans was shut down. Charity Hospital was shut down. Entire housing projects looked like a scene from a horror movie. Everything I knew and loved about this historic city was different. I wondered if it would ever be the same.

Six Flags New Orleans sign reading "Closed for Storm"

Six Flags New Orleans sign reading “Closed for Storm”

Well, I should have never doubted the people of this great city. It definitely took time and patience, but New Orleans was ready to come back and show the world that they were knocked down, but not knocked out. As people made strides to clean the city up, the Saints announced their return to New Orleans in 2006. The NFL schedules were announced and the Saints were set to return to the Louisiana Superdome on September 25. It was a Monday Night game against the rival Atlanta Falcons. People were ready for the Saints to return. But this wasn’t the same Saints that fans remembered.

Jim Haslett was fired after the 2005 season and replaced with Sean Payton, a first time head coach. Payton came in as the new head coach and was ready to shake things up. He signed free agent quarterback Drew Brees, who was coming back from a serious shoulder injury and who’s future was in question, just like the city of New Orleans. The team also drafted college sensation Reggie Bush to join remaining offensive weapons Deuce McAllister and Joe Horn. This new-look Saints team was ready to return to New Orleans and play for their fans. And after two surprising wins in the first two games of the season, the time had finally come to return home.

The Louisiana Superdome reopened to thunderous applause

The Louisiana Superdome reopened to thunderous applause

The game was a festival of sorts. ESPN and other media outlets covered the game live from New Orleans and people were talking about the game all weekend. U2 and Green Day were set to perform live inside the Superdome before kick-off. But as for the game itself, the Saints were huge underdogs to Michael Vick and the Falcons. They were supposed to beat us easily. Both teams came into the game 2-0 but the difference was they were supposed to be undefeated at this point. But the Saints were not supposed to be good at all. How could they be. After having the most challenging season ever in the history of the NFL, it was supposed to be good just to see them play again in New Orleans. Not have them winning so soon. But they were winning and after all the festivities were over, tensions filled the air as the game began. But then came the moment that defined the rebirth of a city. The moment when all of the troubles were forgotten. A moment to laugh, cry, rejoice, and celebrate.

Steve Gleason, a special teams player, made the play that will live on forever and has come to define the reemergence of New Orleans. He became an instant legend in New Orleans and rightfully so. He will always be remembered for that moment. He was a fighter then, and when revealed he was battling ALS in 2011, the city of New Orleans, and the world, fought alongside Gleason and his mission of trying to fight this disease.  To this day, he still lives in New Orleans and still fights everyday in hopes of preventing others from having to suffer from ALS.

As for the rest of that game, the Saints easily handled the Falcons to win their first game back in the Superdome. And they continued on to have a great season. They made it to the NFC Championship game before losing to the Chicago Bears. Their great play continued on through the years, eventually culminating in a Super Bowl Championship in 2009.

Now, here we are 10 years after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina and the city continues to grow stronger than ever. Sure, some things are not the same, nor will they ever be. Some things like Charity Hospital and Six Flags have stayed abandoned since the storm. Charity Hospital sits empty in the middle of the city, now just a home for birds and other critters that make their way inside. Six Flags, which is located in New Orleans East, still has rides left there, unused since before the hurricane. Nature and trespassers have left their mark on a place that was once filled with smiling faces enjoying the amusement park. Many different proposals were made to reinvest in the property, but none succeeded. The only positive about that site is its use for filming movies. Films such as Jurassic World, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, and Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters have all filmed there. Currently, an offshore rig is set up on the property to use for filming of the upcoming film Deepwater Horizon, a movie starring Mark Wahlberg and based on the oil rig explosion in the Gulf of Mexico.

The rollercoaster sits empty at Six Flags New Orleans still to this day

The rollercoaster sits empty at Six Flags New Orleans still to this day

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An old movie theater, abandoned and destroyed, in New Orleans East

Charity Hospital sits gated and abandoned. The hospital was created to assist the poor and the vision for it began in 1736. It lasted all that time, through six buildings, and under different national rulings until the hospital was abandoned a few days after Hurricane Katrina made landfall.

Charity Hospital sits gated and abandoned. The hospital was created to assist the poor and the vision for it began in 1736. It lasted all that time, through six buildings, and under different national rulings until the hospital was abandoned a few days after Hurricane Katrina made landfall.

As a matter of fact, much of New Orleans East is still not fully recovered. Ten years later, buildings along highways still sit abandoned and destroyed. But for the most part, the city of New Orleans has rebounded from tragedy about as well as anyone could have hoped. As mentioned before, the Saints returned and have played great in the past 10 years. The New Orleans Hornets returned and eventually changed their name to the Pelicans, a name more synonymous with the state of Louisiana. In the past 10 years, New Orleans has hosted the Super Bowl, Sugar Bowl, WrestleMania, and many other concerts and events.

While it may never fully heal all wounds, the city of New Orleans has made its way back from the depths and shown the world that the city is still a great place to visit. It took a lot of time, but it also took a lot of faith. And that faith still carries on today. It is in the people that strive to continue to rebuild the areas that still need rebuilding. It is in the businesses that have came back to New Orleans and invested their time in the city’s rebirth. It is in the people and companies that brought money and help to the city in its times of need. And, of course, it is in our New Orleans Saints, who still give the people of New Orleans something to enjoy while escaping the rigors of life.

And for that, I say thank you. And God Bless New Orleans. I love you.

To help find a cure for ALS, go to Team Gleason

For more info on New Orleans, visit NOLA

Daryl Karpinski Jr.

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