Tuesday, February 9, 2010


To understand how monumental the Saints Super Bowl victory was Sunday night, you have to truly “get it” that this was not really about football. This was about many New Orleanians taking their first full breath in five years, and experiencing that much-elusive feeling of joy that has been sorely missing in one of the most joyous cities on earth. When Tracy Porter intercepted the pass from Colts quarterback Peyton Manning and immediately pushed the score to 31-17, Hurricane Katrina finally took its rightful place in the history of New Orleans. Until that moment, we all still saw Katrina in present tense. Today we do not.

The night before the Super Bowl, less than an hour after the polls closed, LA Lieutenant Governor Mitch Landrieu claimed victory in the New Orleans mayoral race. That once and for all informed us that the Ray Nagin era is thankfully over. We voters made one of the city’s biggest mistakes ever when we allowed Nagin a second term. During the second term, Nagin accomplished virtually nothing and progress in rebuilding our city almost came to a halt. Landrieu not only has a reputation as an aggressive leader, but he also has connections to Washington, and a sister who is a U.S. Senator. To say we are hopeful is an understatement.

I have lived in New Orleans for 25 years, and I feel confident in saying that life here is unique in the United States. There is a sense of community here that almost makes us feel separate from the rest of the South, in a good way. It is not a perfect place. The racial divide here is all pervasive, and it certainly holds us back from being as powerful a city as we could be. The poverty rate is an embarrassment for rich and poor alike here, and it holds individual citizens back from being who they could be in the world. The crime has been extreme for the last decade, and it does cause us to look over our shoulders a bit more than we would like. Still, if you asked those racially angry or outrageously poor or somewhat fearful citizens what they feel for the city, they will always use the word “love.” We love this place in a deep way. And we rarely leave for long. I tried to leave once in 1989, but I was back by 1991. I longed for it the whole time I was gone. New Orleans has a way of getting under your skin, and if you’re like me, and you were not fortunate enough to be born here, before you know it you’ve been here for a quarter of a century.

Within 10 minutes of the Saints Super Bowl victory, I was on Bourbon Street, along with tens of thousands of others. There was no violence; there was no racial divide; it didn’t matter what your socio-economic status was; there was just sheer, unadulterated joy. Brass bands seemed to appear out of nowhere; people made up extemporaneous raps about the Saints; drag queens posed under streetlights; bikers danced with each other; strangers hugged and kissed; out-of-towners were dazzled, locals were unified as a real community and we all knew it was a moment unlike any other. New Orleans was back on the map, and every single one of us who stayed after the 2005 hurricanes knew that we helped put it there.

If you live in New Orleans, keep your head held high. If you’re anywhere other than New Orleans, come on down and see what all the fuss is really about.

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