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Storming the Field

Gus Kattengell on how the New Orleans Saints and their fans have made each other stronger



Football season is here, finally.

  New Orleanians know the signs — helmets and shoulder pads begin to clash and, unfortunately, fans have one eye trained on the Gulf of Mexico as hurricane season reaches its height. Sports mean many things to different people, but for Who Dats a football game can be so much more.

  At no other time is this more evident than following a storm. It's been fewer than two weeks since Hurricane Isaac wreaked havoc in this region; and it seems the New Orleans Saints' regular season is starting at just the right time.

  Since 2005, the Saints have played a game following Hurricanes Katrina, Gustav and now Isaac. "I guess we've been in this situation before," Saints quarterback Drew Brees said last week. "It's quite emotional, and obviously a lot of people are still recovering and struggling with us as a team, recognizing what it means to them for us to be out there and (it's) our motivation to play for them."

  That's the beauty of being a Saints fan. Regardless of political ideology, religious preference or socioeconomic status, we are members of a congregation that wear black and gold and convene on Saints game days for a common goal. Add hardship, and it's a service we all look forward to attending.

  "I think that the relationship that the Saints have with the city of New Orleans is unique because we're giving and taking from each other," safety Malcolm Jenkins said last week. "When we have stuff that's going on with this past offseason, our city was the first ones that really rallied around us ... when everybody else in the league was calling us cheaters and all this other stuff. Our city backed us 100 percent."

  When the NFL came down hard on the Black and Gold, callers to my radio show, The Sports Hangover, were furious — and the attacks, accusations and name-calling became personal.

  "I know our fans can't wait to see what we do this year with everything that is going on," said linebacker Jonathan Casillas. "Just like our city is fighting through problems with Hurricane Isaac just passing, there have been several people here fighting this terrible tragedy. We're here behind them, supporting them, doing whatever we can do to help our city. I know they are going to be behind us."

  I've spent months talking about the adversity the Saints must overcome, then Isaac hits and lives are affected in ways that are hard to imagine.

  "That is not adversity, rather it is opportunity for all of us to step up," said acting head coach Aaron Kromer, adding that such incidents can make the bounty scandal and ensuing suspensions seem fairly irrelevant.

  "Adversity is when your house is flooded and you can't go home," he said. "Those are the things in life you are going to find out about yourself. Our guys, over time, have realized that the fans and the people in the area can always bounce back. We live by that. No matter what happens, we know that the community is going to bounce back and we know that the community has our back and we have the community's back."

  A Saints game won't give us back the sleepless nights without power that were endured following Isaac or rebuild or refurnish a home. That doesn't mean players don't understand.

  "I'm not going to pretend I know what it's like to lose my house or be flooded out and lose everything I own or anything like that, like some people have," Brees said. "But then again, I know the mindset of trying to overcome a devastating loss or something devastating in my life, thinking about how you're going to overcome this."

  Brees' mother died in 2009.

  "You take it one day at a time," he said. "You set short-term goals, surround yourself with good people and have a sense of belief and faith that's unwavering. I know the people in this community have that. We have it as a team. I think the more we are able to lean on each other to do that, it's powerful."

  Spoken like a true New Orleanian.

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