NEW ORLEANS — While the sold-out Superdome celebrated Monday night’s opening-drive touchdown by New Orleans, one fan stood still, holding an American flag colored in the home team’s black and gold.
“The Rebirth,” it read.
The Saints hosted the Atlanta Falcons on Monday night, 10 years and a day after re-opening the Superdome against the same team following the devastation of Hurricane Katrina and the Federal levee breaches.
The Superdome is much different now compared to the one ravaged during and after the 2005 storm. More than $360 million in mostly public money has been used to renovate the facility. Improvements include two large end-zone videoboards and field level club sections.
The faded exterior siding dented by hurricane debris was replaced a couple of years after the Superdome re-opened, and the recognizable roof has been replaced with newer material.
New Orleans’ rebirth from Katrina is tied as much to the Saints and the Superdome as it is anything else. And Monday night, the team tried to tap into that emotional connection.
Like Sept. 25, 2006, Grammy Award-winning singer and New Orleans resident Irma Thomas belted out an emotional national anthem.
At halftime of Atlanta’s 45-32 win , while videoboards showed scenes from the 2006 re-opening, Southern University’s marching band played and spelled out “rebirth” in formation. And just like that night in 2006, New Orleans’ Grammy Award-winning Rebirth Brass Band played “The Saints Are Coming.”
The biggest part, though, was the involvement of Steve Gleason, who played an emotional role again.
Ten years ago, he blocked a punt to help New Orleans to an early lead in a 23-3 victory over Atlanta. In the years since, he has been known as much for his battle against Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis as he is for that punt block.
He was one of the Saints’ honorary captains on Monday night, directing his automatic wheelchair onto the field for the coin toss. When he was announced as one of the captains, he was greeted with a loud round of cheers.
But all of the memories couldn’t help the Saints re-capture the same magic the night held 10 years ago. While that 2006 win made New Orleans 3-0 and gave the Saints an early divisional lead, Monday night’s loss kept them winless and at the bottom of the NFC South.
“Whatever is happening now is here for a reason,” Saints quarterback Drew Brees said. “It’s here to make you stronger. It’s here to sharpen you up a little bit, toughen you up a little bit, and bring a team together in a way that will serve you in a positive way down the road.”
Yet, the remembrance of the events a decade ago weren’t just felt by the home team. Falcons linebacker Deion Jones, who grew up in New Orleans and played at LSU, made a special note on his shoes to remember Katrina.
“I think that everybody was just so excited for him,” Atlanta coach Dan Quinn said of Jones, who returned an interception 90 yards for a touchdown. “Tonight, he had a special message on his cleats that was very personal to him about growing up here and what happened for him 10 years ago.”