September 01, 2005
New Orleans: From Super Bowl Heaven To A Living Hell
BY: Kevin Rousseau
Besides births, weddings and graduations, I imagine that the two greatest moments in my life were due to sports-related triumphs. They were 1)when a certain local baseball team canceled all past debts last October and 2) being fortunate enough to personally witness the Patriots' first Super Bowl win in New Orleans in 2002.
Personally, it’s hard to get my head around this tragedy; especially the ongoing human and natural disaster that is taking place in the Crescent City. I'm finding that it is easier to understand the gravity of the situation because I have visited the area and remember just how vast, dynamic and unique of a city New Orleans is. Make that was.
I think of the old cab driver that drove us from the airport to our hotel. I could hardly understand what he was saying but he sure was proud of his city. I wonder how the adolescent kid is who sold me a “Dome Edition” of the Times-Picayune around 1 a.m. as my dad and I sat in a French Quarter restaurant and celebrated the improbable win. I hope that the now teenager is okay. Then there’s the swamp tour we took the day after the game in a very rural area just outside of the city. I shudder to think about just what kind of life (if any) is left for those decent people that we met on that cloudy, clammy February morning.
I look at the pictures of the flooded streets of downtown New Orleans and nearly break down. How is this place the same city where I jumped up and down in sheer joy as we left the Superdome and headed down Canal Street after the ball sailed through the west goal as the clock hit zero?
The pedestrian ramp that was the main entrance into Super Bowl XXXVI is now a sea of refugees. A sea of refugees in these United States. This isn’t some hard-to-comprehend b-roll film from a third world country we’re watching here, gang. These are our people and they are dying in front of our eyes on the same spot where I said “Let’s get our picture taken in front of the Superdome, Dad. That will be cool to hang up in the living room.”
I think of the irony that one of the great sporting arenas in this country is now being used as a haven of last resort for people who are one desperate step away from having it all end for them.
“It’s anarchy in the Superdome as toilets back up, rival gangs mix it up and the air conditioning doesn’t work,” I hear while driving in my air conditioned car on my way to the air conditioned office.
I reflect and pray for the well being of the person who took refuge at my seat in Section 639. Did they lose their home or a loved one? And to think that my thoughts in that same seat in the 4th quarter were about just how I was going to explain away another Boston championship game collapse? How pitiful is that?
This crisis certainly puts into perspective this silly life distraction that we call sports.
Sports is a distraction and entertainment. That’s it. Nothing more, nothing less. It is not the loss of life, property or self-dignity like we are witnessing on tv the past few days. Too often (present company especially included), we make much too much of a last-second loss, a botched ground ball or a missed free throw.
That’s not to say that sports does not play an important role in society; especially in these times. After September 11th, the return of the NFL and Major League Baseball helped us as a society to get back on our collective feet and let our minds wander away for a few hours at a time.
Perhaps sports will play the same role this time as well. Maybe the refugees of the NFL - the Saints - will rise to the occasion and bring a smile or two to their fans across Louisiana. I’m sure hoping they do. If you could hand pick a Super Bowl XL champion and would choose the Patriots over the Saints right now, you should be ashamed of yourself and hope you don’t cross my path in the coming days.
I often wished that I could someday return to the Big Easy and spend more time there than we did on that whirlwind weekend. I just got a quick taste of a city that was like no other in the United States. I suppose it's human nature to want to return and relive the place and events that brought such a thrilling moment to your life’s story.
Now I just wish that the place would just simply live.
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