Super Bowl: 'This is the pinnacle of my life. Now I can die'

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

Super Bowl victory was far more than just a sporting triumph for a city still living with the effects of Hurricane Katrina, reports Rupert Cornwell

'Amen". Such was the banner headline in the Times-Picayune newspaper yesterday, and such was the feeling that infuses America's most bewitching, most blighted and most beloved city after the magical night of 7 February 2010, when the Saints won the Super Bowl. New Orleans, you can at last believe, is back.

Four years and five months ago such a feeling of ecstasy would have been inconceivable. On 28 August 2005, New Orleans all but died when Hurricane Katrina inflicted upon it the worst natural disaster in modern American history, leaving 80 per cent of the city under water, and sending two thirds of the population into exile – including, for an entire season, the Saints themselves.

After just 12 months the team came back to their refurbished Superdome, the covered arena that in the days after Katrina had been a fetid, overcrowded symbol of a city – and a country's – inability to cope. But for many others, exile has been permanent; only 350,000 people live in New Orleans today, compared with over 500,000 before the storm struck. In the small hours of yesterday morning, however, it seemed as if the whole country had descended on the place.

Natives tend to shun the French Quarter, viewing it as a tourist trap best left to out-of-town conventioneers. Not this time. Bourbon Street was a teeming, delirious mass of humanity, ecstatic not just that their team, long known as the "Aints" for the futility that has marked most of the 43 years of its existence, had actually managed to win the most glamorous prize in US sport.

Finally, a city that in the best of times had always been associated with crime, violence and urban dysfunction, was making news for the right reasons. As a Times-Picayune columnist observed, for once "a New Orleans civic entity was actually executing a sophisticated task at a consistent level of excellence".

Most locals, of course, didn't reflect on the historic event in quite such scholarly terms. "This is the pinnacle of my life – now I can die!" said 46-year-old Randy Sumrall, one of the permanent exiles who, like so many of them, had been drawn back for a night they hoped and prayed would symbolise a city's rebirth. "This is the happiest place on earth," exulted a young woman.

Daryl Turner, one resident who never left, also surrendered to the pandemonium of the moment. "Right now it feels that no matter what obstacles, there ain't nothing we can't do if we pull together. That what's we needed in this city, to make something happen."

And happen it did. In traditional New Orleans fashion, impromptu bands took to the streets. As victory over the favoured Indianapolis Colts became first a likelihood, then a certainty, fireworks soared into the sky. Everything, from the flags that hung from balconies to the T-shirts of the revellers and the faces of a good number of them, seemed to be coloured in the Saints' black and gold. Everywhere was daubed the fleur de lis, the team's logo and emblem of the city, founded by the French and named after Philippe II, Duc d'Orléans.

Then there were the chants: "When The Saints Go Marching In", of course, but also of New Orleans' unofficial catchphrase, "Who Dat?" The two words are a contraction of the slogan true believers in the football team have clung to through the long years of uselessness: "Who Dat Say Dey Gonna Beat Dem Saints?" Finally, the city has the answer it wanted. Nobody could.

Sunday night, however, was only the beginning. Yesterday the team flew home from Miami. This afternoon the Saints will hold their official victory parade – and it's still a week before Mardi Gras proper on 16 February. Never will New Orleans' annual party be as long, as intense and as joyous as the one that kicked off with victory in Super Bowl XLIV.

But the sense of renewal is not limited to the sports arena. Lost in the excitement was the fact that on the day before the game, the city had acquired a new mayor. Mitch Landrieu, New Orleans' first white mayor in 32 years, is a Democrat. More important, he is well connected in Washington, where his sister Mary is the senior US Senator from Louisiana. If anyone can refocus the federal government's attentions on the unresolved problems left by Katrina, the feeling runs, he can.

And as a bar owner on Bourbon Street pointed out: "Most people don't realise how damaged the city still is." Not only for swathes of New Orleans' former population but also for some of its major businesses, the hurricane was the last straw. Much rebuilding has taken place, even in the ninth ward in the east of the city, which was hardest hit by Katrina.

But thousands still live in temporary trailers, and a third of New Orleans' houses are unoccupied. Most seriously – despite repairs and some strengthening – the levee system remains vulnerable to another major storm (although as one post-Katrina evacuee declared in the giddy aftermath of the Saints' triumph, "another hurricane could come right now and I'd be back".)

Outside New Orleans' cathedral, they said prayers for the team before the game. But the real prayer is that victory will seal the city's recovery – and no one yearns more for that than Drew Brees, the Saints quarterback and hero of the Super Bowl.

His own journey to the summit of his sport symbolises the renaissance of his adopted city. In 2006, he came from San Diego to New Orleans, plagued by a career-threatening shoulder injury. Many believed he would never recover his old form. Several NFL teams that would have been more attractive destinations than New Orleans decided to pass on him. But Brees never lost faith, and now he's playing better than ever.

"Most people didn't know if New Orleans could come back, or if the team could come back," he said at an emotional press conference in Miami. "But we did. We played for so much more than ourselves, we played for our city and we played for the entire Gulf Coast region."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
'The Archers' has an audience of about five million
radioA growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried
Arts and Entertainment
Henry VIII played by Damien Lewis
tvReview: Scheming queens-in-waiting, tangled lines of succession and men of lowly birth rising to power – sound familiar?
News
Sir David Attenborough
people
Life and Style
Young girl and bowl of cereal
food + drink
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
News
Comic miserablist Larry David in 'Curb Your Enthusiasm'
peopleDirector of new documentary Misery Loves Comedy reveals how he got them to open up
Sport
football
News
i100
Life and Style
Virtual reality headset: 'Essentially a cinema screen that you strap to your face'
techHow virtual reality is thrusting viewers into frontline of global events and putting film-goers at the heart of the action
Arts and Entertainment
Ready to open the Baftas, rockers Kasabian are also ‘great film fans’
musicExclusive: Rockers promise an explosive opening to the evening
Life and Style
David Bowie by Duffy
fashion
Arts and Entertainment
Hell, yeah: members of the 369th Infantry arrive back in New York
booksWorld War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel
News
advertisingVideo: The company that brought you the 'Bud' 'Weis' 'Er' frogs and 'Wasssssup' ads, has something up its sleeve for Sunday's big match
Arts and Entertainment
tv
News
i100
Environment
Dame Vivienne Westwood speaking at a fracking protest outside Parliament on Monday (AP)
environment
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Front End Web Interface Developer - HTML, CSS, JS

£17000 - £23750 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Liverpool based international...

Tradewind Recruitment: English Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: This post arises as a result of the need to...

Tradewind Recruitment: Class Teacher Required ASAP In Uminster

£120 - £150 per annum: Tradewind Recruitment: I am recruiting on instruction o...

Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Director - London - £70,000

£70000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Controller - Fina...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee
World War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel

Max Brooks honours Harlem Hellfighters

The author talks about race, legacy and his Will Smith film option to Tim Walker
Why the league system no longer measures up

League system no longer measures up

Jon Coles, former head of standards at the Department of Education, used to be in charge of school performance rankings. He explains how he would reform the system
Valentine's Day cards: 5 best online card shops

Don't leave it to the petrol station: The best online card shops for Valentine's Day

Can't find a card you like on the high street? Try one of these sites for individual, personalised options, whatever your taste
Diego Costa: Devil in blue who upsets defences is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

Devil in blue Costa is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

The Reds are desperately missing Luis Suarez, says Ian Herbert
Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Former one-day coach says he will ‘observe’ their World Cup games – but ‘won’t be jumping up and down’
Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

Greece elections

In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

Holocaust Memorial Day

Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

Magnetic north

The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness