Unlike last year, Reggie Bush and Vince Young — not Hurricane Katrina — dominate the headlines about tonight’s home opener in New Orleans. In fact, the only mentions of the storm seem to be when the pundits knock the Saints as one-hit wonders whose 2006 season was a magical ride propelled by post-Katrina euphoria.
But make no mistake, Hurricane Katrina and its effects on New Orleans are still very much in the minds of the Saints and a part of the fabric of the team.
I recently spoke to Saints quarterback Drew Brees, who was named the 2007 Walter Payton Man of the Year for his community service. I was impressed by both Drew’s and the Saints’ work with the city, as well as the way that service has helped the team come together off the field.
The Saints’ sincere commitment to helping rebuild New Orleans was part of what attracted Drew to the city in 2006. He described it as a “calling,” and it’s a call that he and his wife, Brittany, have answered with zeal. Drew and Brittany immediately made New Orleans their home, buying and renovating a 100-year-old, wind-damaged house in the heart of the city. During the Saints’ successful 2006 season, Drew teamed up with teammate Deuce McAllister on a fundraiser to help rebuild the NFL Youth Education Town and Pan American Football Field, worked to improve youth and high school programs and sponsored the “Drew Brees Gridiron Classic,” which allowed teams to play on the field of the Superdome at halftime.
While the media attention and national interest for the plight of those in New Orleans has waned since then, Drew’s commitment has not. In April, Drew and Brittany partnered with Operation Kids to help rebuild children’s facilities and programs throughout New Orleans, and over the summer Drew paid for members of his college fraternity, Sigma Chi, to come to the city and build houses with Habitat for Humanity.
A team effort
Drew is hardly the only player on the Saints involved in rebuilding the community. Going through the photos of charity events on Drew’s Web site is like flipping through the Saints’ yearbook. For the Saints, it’s almost like an extension of the job. It just comes naturally.
Every NFL team is dedicated to helping causes in their respective cities, but it’s rare to find a team so dedicated to a single cause, and it will be interesting to see how this unity off the field translates in games.
At 0-2, the team is in a tough position right now. The media attention is fierce and the criticism is harsh. But through their community service, the Saints have built personal relationships with each other and learned what makes each other tick. That kind of bond makes it easier to stay focused on getting through the rough patches. It will stop the team from sniping at each other.
I’m not one to make predictions when it comes to the outcome of games, but I predict one story line in tonight’s game will be the same as last year. The sold-out crowd in New Orleans will welcome the team home with enthusiasm, grateful for what the Saints have done for New Orleans since Hurricane Katrina, both on and off the field.