Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Crescent City Crush-Job

Saints ride a tidal wave of emotion to a 23-3 pasting of the Falcons
The Dome was rockin & the unfortunate Falcons came a-knockin'

It was like NFL Opening Night, Mardi Gras and the Super Bowl all rolled into one. The Saints came marching back in to New Orleans last night with enough pomp, circumstance and music to have qualified as a giant homecoming parade.

Which of course it was. After 56 weeks of agony and displace-ment, 23 consecutive road games, and millions of tears of pain & anguish, the New Orleans Saints returned to their home turf in grand style last night with a 23-3 pasting of the Atlanta Falcons in front of 69,000+ fans in house and millions more around the country who all had to be rooting for the new America's Team.

It was a magical night all around starting with the grand opening of the renovated former hurricane relief center/symbol of a region in despair, The Superdome. And the organizers of this extravaganza sure kicked it off right. Brought in to be the opening act was none other that two modern titans of the music industry, Green Day & U2. Robin Roberts stated that U2's The Edge had set up a charitable fund called Music Rising and a clip played showing the efforts to bring the life blood of the Bayou country back home- the music. The clip then segued into Green Day's Billy Joe on stage singing their soulful ballad "Wake me up when September Ends". As the song concluded, Joe, channelling Moe Howard with his dark mop, croaked out a little rendition of "House of the Rising Sun"- "there is a house in New Orleans, it's called the Superdome..."; the chills were multiplyin' by now. Then the crowd roared as U2's Bono entered stage right, sensing the real fun was about to begin. The two supergroups combined for a moving piece called, appropriately enough, "The Saints are Coming". By now the gooseflesh was rising and the tears were welling- the sight and sound of two of music's greatest bands of the past 25 years belting out the refrain "the Saints are coming..." over & over while the crowd went wild was a powerful emotional scene that will be etched in my memory for a long time. Bono's melodic voice spoke to the essence of what was going on in the area: "...Lower 9th (Ward) will rise again, above the waters of Lake Pontchartrain..." They capped it off with the uplifting anthem "(It's a) Beautiful Day" as the building rocked & the tears flowed-"... Fats Domino, you're beautiful, Allen Toussaint, you're beautiful, Aaron Neville, you're beautiful"- and it truly was a beautiful day for the millions of hope-starved citizens of New Orleans. The whole clip can be viewed here, and please view it; in a word that opening sequence was FREAKIN' AWESOME!

But wait, was there still a game to be played? Oh yes there was, and whoever said Bono isn't a prophet was lying because after the Saints took the field, their field, for the first time since Dec 26th, 2004 ironically against these very Falcons, the onslaught began. After a short-lived drive in which Mike Vick almost lost a fumble on 3rd down Atlanta was forced to punt from deep in their own end. New punter/old placekicker Michael Koenen didn't fare much better at his new position as New Orleans' Steve "Stevie G" Gleason snuck right up the middle, blocked the punt with his belly and Curtis Deloache fell on the ball in the end zone for a Saint TD a mere 30 seconds into the game; the Saints were indeed coming, and they were going to run right over the helpless Falcon squad right from the get-go. As Deloache reverse-spiked the ball over the goalpost and pointed to the screaming fans in the stands I thought to myself "I hope they repaired that roof real good, 'cause if not it might just cave in from all the noise." The good times continued as the Saints repeatedly stymied Vick, Dunn and Atlanta's vaunted rushing attack. After a Falcon FG the Saints pulled a beautiful double-reverse, using Reggie Bush as a decoy in handing off to former LSU star Devery Henderson, who scampered in for the 11-yard score and a 14-3 lead. Another Saint FG pushed the lead to 17-3 and when Atlanta threatened to add a morale-boosting FG before the half the Saints turned it into a morale-killer: they blocked former Saint kicking legend Morten Anderson's 25-yd attempt, then marched down the field and with help from a foolish late hit penalty on Atlanta CB Kevin Mathis hit a 51-yd FG as time expired for a 20-3 halftime lead. But the game was over then. As I had hoped and predicted (toot toot) the Saints rode the wave of emotion generated by their homecoming to an impressive victory that couldn't have been scripted better by Disney. Thanks to the awesome combined healing power of music, words, and terrific play a devastated area of our country was allowed to let loose, have fun, and forget their troubles for at least one day. It was one of the most powerfully moving sporting events I have ever witnessed, and one that will linger in the minds of fans and Americans for quite a while.

At least until the Bucs come to town in 2 weeks.

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