Saints Give New Orleans a Reason to Cheer It's just football, but there's no denying the New Orleans Saints are a unifying force for a troubled city. As the team continues its unexpected playoff march Sunday, the next stop could be the Super Bowl.
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Saints Give New Orleans a Reason to Cheer

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Saints Give New Orleans a Reason to Cheer

Saints Give New Orleans a Reason to Cheer

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For people in New Orleans, today's Saints-Bears game will provide a much-needed diversion from the heartbreak of life in a broken city. Melanie Peeples reports.

MELANIE PEEPLES: You could definitely say this town is Saints crazy. Everywhere you go, it's all people talk about. Just last week, I heard a bride whose wedding coincided with game time saying that not only were some of her guests skipping her wedding for the game, but that she felt bad for people who were in her wedding and had no way of backing out.

Now a New Orleans judge is delaying the start of an asbestos trial slated for tomorrow. It seems he was worries jurors might not show up. Because if there's one thing New Orleans and Saints fans know how to do, it's have a good time.

(Soundbite of music)

PEEPLES: Let me put it this way. I've seen a lot of football tailgating, but never before have I seen blenders powered by batteries or port-a-potties on the back of pickup trucks for fans who refuse to let their bladders get in the way of tailgating.

And why shouldn't Saints fans have a good time? God knows, they deserve it. Between Katrina, Rita and a murder rate that was averaging one killing a day at the beginning of this year, New Orleans needs a good time.

(Soundbite of cheering)

Mr. DAVID DUPREE (Saints Fan): (Unintelligible)

PEEPLES: David Dupree, in a Number 9 Saints jersey, with a painted face and a fake Mohawk, is a long-time, long-suffering Saints fan.

Mr. DUPREE: Oh yeah, 3-13 last year. I was still there with them.

PEEPLES: And the Saints didn't even play in New Orleans last season. The Superdome was closed, and some people didn't think it should ever reopen. They said too much suffering went on there.

Then like a phoenix rising from its own ashes, the Saints returned in September, bringing their fans hope, and perhaps the biggest gift of all.

Mr. DUPREE: It's one day that you know you can come here for three hours or whatever it is and just completely forget about it, and you know, away from work, away from whatever you have to do with your house or with insurance companies or whatever. You come over here and let all your frustrations out, and I mean it's just unreal.

PEEPLES: Game day is a day people can forget about losing everything they had or what it's like to still be living in a cramped FEMA trailer 17 months later, because no matter what divides the people of New Orleans and Louisiana - rich, poor, black, white - there's one thing they all agree on.

Mr. SHERMAN SMITH (Saints Fan): Just because we all come together for the New Orleans Saints.

PEEPLES: Sherman Smith is another life-long Saints fan. Smith is here with his friend Stephen Blinko(ph), who spies another friend in the crowd and pulls him in for a hug.

Mr. SMITH: This is a die-hard Saints fan.

Ms. STEPHEN BLINKO (Saints Fan): I am.

Mr. SMITH: We're black, white, we stick together.

Mr. BLINKO: That's it.

Mr. SMITH: You know what it is? We're all black and gold.

Mr. BLINKO: There is no color today except black and gold. That's it.

PEEPLES: It's easy to get swept up in all this optimism, to cheer for New Orleans. Well, easy for anyone who's not a Bears fan, and it's got to be tough for the Bears going up against such a Cinderella story. But it's just so hard not to cheer for this team, for New Orleans, a city that needs as many days or hours as it can get to forget about regular life for just a little while longer.

(Soundbite of song)

PEEPLES: For NPR News, I'm Melanie Peeples in New Orleans.

(Soundbite of song)

Unidentified Man: (Singing) Who dare say they're going to beat the Saints. Who dare? Who dare? Who dare say they're going to beat the Saints? Who dare? Who dare? Oh when the Saints go marching in, oh when the Saints go marching, marching on in...

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