American Football: Home sweet Dome

A year after Hurricane Katrina, the Saints are healing New Orleans. By Rupert Cornwell

Another hurricane has hit New Orleans. But this was the kind they have been dreaming of: a tidal surge of fans welcoming their adored NFL Saints home, as the city took its greatest single step towards normality since Katrina's dreadful visitation of 13 months ago.

For millions of armchair fans, it was merely the third Monday night football game of the new season, an institution taken for granted by millions of television viewers, live from the Superdome. But for New Orleans this was a private Super Bowl, five months early.

If 29 August 2005 was the day a city died, 25 September 2006 may go down as the moment it was reborn. For the first time since December 2004, the Saints were back in town. And not only that. One of gridiron's perennially lousy teams celebrated with a victory so convincing that the rest of the season could be pretty special on the field as well as off.

But this week no one was bothering much about that - even after the Saints had thrashed the visiting Atlanta Falcons by 23 points to three, a margin that did not do true justice to their domination on the night, and lifted their 2006 record to a perfect 3-0. Hours before the game, the carnival was in full swing. Back in the aftermath of Katrina, water was lapping at the Superdome. On Monday, five hours before kick-off, another flood was carving a mighty, irresistible path - but this one made of thousands upon thousands of people, decked out in the Saints' gold and black, joyously descending on the 27-storey building that, for better or worse, is the emblem of New Orleans.

Inside, the pre-game festivities were worthy of the Super Bowl. "There is a house in New Orleans... it's called the Super dome," the 70,000 present sang - and for once the sun was truly rising on the city. Then came a thunderous rendering of "Beautiful Day" by U2, aptly fronted by Bono, the musician identified more than any other with coming to the aid of the needy.

New Orleans still has colossal problems. The city's population is only half its pre-Katrina level of 460,000. Vast swathes of it resemble a modern Pompeii. But the Saints are already sold out for the whole regular season. Most important, the Superdome looks like a football arena again.

In those first days after Katrina struck, the place was symbolic of a third world in the richest country on earth, and a metaphor for a semi-obliterated city: a chaotic, fetid stinking hole packed with refugees and with half of its roof torn off. For New Orleans it signified humiliation and despair, for the wider America it was a national badge of shame.

Those memories can never be erased. But the physical wounds can. Inside and out, the stadium looked brand new - as it should after a nearly completed $185m (£98m) face-lift including a new roof, new artificial turf, new concession stands and state-of-the-art scoreboards.

"The Superdome is a sign of hope and progress," Louisiana's governor, Kathleen Blanco, said on Monday. "It rises as a symbol of renewal and progress. We know we can bring our communities back." Another New Orleanian was blunter still. "Katrina was our 9/11, and this building was our twin towers."

On the field, too, things are looking up for one of the NFL's eternal so-rans. The Saints have not made the play-offs since 2000, and are one of three teams (and by far the oldest) never to have played in a Super Bowl or an NFC Championship game.

At one point in their less than stellar history, fans lopped the first letter off their name, turning the Saints into a more fitting "Aints". Last year, when the team were forced to play their home games in San Antonio, the Louisiana state capital of Baton Rouge (and on one occasion in New York) was understandably dismal, ending 3-13.

But last night's rout of Atlanta, who had arrived with a perfect 2-0 record of their own, offers sporting hope as well. The team are unbeaten - and that without a defining contribution thus far from Reggie Bush (already dubbed "Saint Reggie"), the former USC star rated as one of the best college running backs in history who was snapped up by the Saints as their top 2006 draft pick.

Instead New Orleans won with their tightly knitted, speedy defence, smothering every attempted play by Atlanta's highly rated quarterback, Michael Vick. In truth, though, the Falcons were competing against not only the Saints but an evening's manifest destiny as well.

"I'd be lying if I said there wasn't a little piece of me that really appreciated what this game meant to this city," the Atlanta head coach Jim Mora said. "But we made it way too easy for the Saints. They played extremely well; we didn't play very well."

peopleFrankie Boyle responds to referendum result in characteristically offensive style
Lewis Hamilton will start the Singapore Grand Prix from pole, with Nico Rosberg second and Daniel Ricciardo third
F1... for floodlit Singapore Grand Prix
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvHe is only remaining member of original cast
Arts and Entertainment
tvHighs and lows of the cast's careers since 2004
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Fans hold up a scarf at West Ham vs Liverpool
footballAfter Arsenal's clear victory, focus turns to West Ham vs Liverpool
New Articles
i100... she's just started school
New Articles
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
New Articles
i100... despite rising prices
Caption competition
Caption competition
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

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

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Qualified Primary Teaching Assistant

£64 - £73 per day + Competitive rates based on experience : Randstad Education...

Primary KS2 NQTs required in Lambeth

£117 - £157 per day + Competitive London rates: Randstad Education Group: * Pr...

Primary NQTs required in Lambeth

£117 - £157 per day + Competitive London rates: Randstad Education Group: * Pr...

Primary NQTs required in Lambeth

£117 - £157 per day + Competitive London rates: Randstad Education Group: * Pr...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam