Today, I went to the Superdome to see my beloved Saints play the Texans. It’s been 5 years since the September 25, 2006 Saints/Falcons game, the first game played in the Superdome after Hurricane Katrina made it a symbol of suffering and shuttered its gates. It was called “Coming Home” day and it was more than just a game. Throughout this past weekend, footage of that game replayed on the TV and I heard stories from grocery store clerks and French Quarter residents all emphasizing the same thing – the noise. The Superdome is well known as one of the loudest venues in the NFL with crowds’ cheers drowning out the opponents voices as they try to yell out their calls so I was surprised to hear that one day was louder than the rest – and it wasn’t the Vikings game that secured our place in the Superbowl in 2009. I was intrigued.
To set the scene, the Saints had finished a 3-13 season in 2005, making them the second worst team in the league. In early 2006, the team hired coach, Sean Payton, and quarterback, Drew Brees. The newly remade team opened their season at an away-game against the Cleveland Browns (winning 19-14) and another away game against Green Bay (winning 13-0). It was the first time the Saints had ever opened the season with 2 consecutive wins.
The Coming Home game was against our biggest rivals, the Atlanta Flacons. Starting the day with a bang, the Goo Goo Dolls performed on the stadium ramp as people arrived. The stadium was then treated to a 10 minute concert of Green Day and U2 (at the peaks of their fame) with some help from local favorites Rebirth Brass Band, New Birth Brass Band, Kermit Ruffins, Trombone Shorty, Big Sam and Gregory Davis. About halfway through the concert, the U2 and Green Day supergroup launched into their remake of The Skids The Saints Are Coming and the crowd went wild. George H. W. Bush conducted the coin toss in front of the largest audience ESPN had ever had at the time. It was the first time the Superdome had ever sold out. (It has never failed to sell out since).
The crowd was just happy to be there rechristening their Dome. They were used to losing and that had never held back their enthusiasm and their ability to Make Some Noise! But something amazing happened – 4 plays and 90 seconds into the game, Steve Gleason of the Saints blocked an Atlanta punt leading to the team’s first touchdown since returning to the Superdome. Sean Payton would later say that, “It was probably the loudest I’ve ever heard any stadium, ever. There would be a distant second, there would be a big gap between the next crowd noise that you would be able to remember.” This from a man who won the Super Bowl. And everyone mentions how “sustained” the noise was for the entire game. They mention headaches and earaches and how it was all worth it.
After some more fancy footwork, including an amazing and rare double reverse 11-yard touchdown, the Saints pulled out a 23-3 victory against Atlanta and the city exploded into celebration. The Superdome had been resurrected and the Super Bowl winning Saints we know today were born.
As readers of this blog know, this wasn’t my first time to a Saints game nor my first time watching them win in the Superdome, but it was the first time I understood the full force of Saints fans making noise. The game opened with punt-blocker, Steve Gleason, leading the Who Dat Chant. Just before the game, Gleason, only 34, revealed that he has been diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease). It’s fitting that he chose the 5th anniversary in the house of rebirth to reveal what he hopes to find victory over next. His amazing play became a symbol of this city’s ability to win against the odds, to pull a play out of thin air and ignite a new history.
Today’s game was a great one. The guys wore their “throwback” uniforms, opting for the uniforms they wore 5 years ago over the newer, shinier (better looking) uniforms they wear today. Between the field goals and conversions and touchdowns, I felt like I spent the whole game dancing. After each field goal, we all (70,000 of us) dance to New Orleans traditional classic, Second Line, and after each touchdown, we all Stand up and Get Crunk, chanting, “Here we come to get you!” One of my favorite moments was watching newly acquired Saint, Jimmy Graham, a basketball player from University of Miami, crawl toward the end zone John Riggins-style, dragging men with him. Lance Moore had a great day and we witnessed new Saint, Mark Ingram’s first career touchdown. After a respectable but disappointing first half and a dazzling second, we beat the Texans 40-33.
The Superdome is haunted by many memories. The young lady sitting on my right hadn’t been to a game since she was 8. For her, the Dome is the place her dad used to take her when she was little. On my left was Andy who’d been at that game 5 years ago and had this to say about the blocked punt, ” “If I had been standing next to the space shuttle when it was taking off, it wouldn’t be that loud. I’ve stood next to Niagara Falls and it wasn’t that loud.” For many, it was the 5 year anniversary of the year they first bought season tickets. For some, it was also the place they sought refuge (and found little) during the storm.
Dancing in the thick of the Who Dat Nation with their mine-goes-to-eleven noise level, I couldn’t help but relish that the fans have gone from chanting “The Saints are coming” to the far more ominous, “Here we come to get you.”
Enjoy 30 seconds of you-had-to-be-there noise. I turned on my camera to document the clapping, cheering and banging of metal Budweiser bottles on stair rails when the Saints’ Jabari Greer grabbed an interception. The change in already insane noise nearly blew out my camera’s microphone.