Hurricane Katrina left the New Orleans Saints with a tough dilemma when it ripped through the city, leaving their home field, the Louisiana Superdome, crippled.
Should the Saints stay the course and concentrate solely on football, or should they instead worry about their friends and family, some of which are still missing in the wrath of the devastation?
Most of us would undoubtedly put the world on hold when a loved one is in need, exhausting every resource imaginable to discover their whereabouts.
But with the Saints on the brink of starting the 2005-06 regular season, without electricity to telephone their loved ones, and the immense flooding that has clogged roads in and out of the below sea-level city, league officials have decided against canceling the remainder of their preseason schedule.
The league was hoping that the continued play would, among other things, distract many of the players from the heartbreaking thought that their fans and loved ones may be struggling to stay alive. This seems like a huge mental disadvantage for the Saints organization.
Last Thursday the Saints traveled to Oakland and played the Raiders in a preseason finale game. The result was a 13-6 loss, and the players never looked so uninterested.
After the Oakland game, the Saints returned to New Orleans to spend time with their families. On Monday the team left to their temporary practice facility in San Antonio. Now the team must address their next predicament: where to play their home games.
The Superdome has a rather large hole in its severely damaged roof deeming the facility unstable for use. The opening, caused by Katrina’s high wind gusts and torrential rainfall, has allowed light to shine onto the field, similar to a spotlight used to illuminate a rock star – surely Terrell Owens would be in favor of keeping the damage intact for when his Eagles come to town.
Interestingly, the 30-year-old dome was built on top of an old cemetery demolished to make room for the 52-acre facility. Whoever had the bright idea of building the largest domed structure in the world over an old burial ground must not of been at all superstitious or an athlete.
Numerous players have voiced their superstitions publicly over the years. Now the Saints are expected to deal with these pressuring issues ranging from potential family and friend loss to a condemned burial ground for a field, and above all expect to be positive about the upcoming season – this really seems again like an unfair advantage.
Maybe the answer is simply to play through the pain. Yes, maybe it sounds a little barbaric, but rest assured, I am sympathetic to their situation. It is, however, important to understand that most athletes deal with their issues by using it as motivation when they step on the field and compete.
Players live for those moments. They can achieve a sense of euphoria simply by taking in the smell from the field and the sounds of roaring crowds. It is for those three hours that professional players can achieve a sense of relief from the upside-down world they are living in.
This feeling is also enhanced when a game is played at home with several thousand fans screaming in support. The same goes for the fans, which plan their entire year around having every Sunday available for football, beer, and junk food – the game affects us all.
Unfortunately, it is looking more and more like Saints fans will now have to drive to Baton Rouge to catch a home game, which is more than an 80-mile trek inland.
As if that weren’t enough, ESPN’s Dan Patrick mentioned on his radio show that Saints ownership is rumored to relocate the entire organization from the state of Louisiana – perfect timing.
There is no doubt that the city of New Orleans and the Saints have serious issues to deal with at the present time. Hopefully something positive will come away from this disaster, something that will not only benefit the team, but also benefit the city of New Orleans.
Louisiana should find solace in having one of the greatest sports headlining their rebuilding city. If the coaches and players are not able to find a way to make an impact on the playing field this year, it is possible that the state of Louisiana will lose professional football all together.
Everyone in Louisiana, and more directly, New Orleans, must accept what Katrina has done and rally around one another to pull through these trying times.
The Saints football team and players represent a good starting point towards the rebuilding process, both on an emotional level and the obvious physical areas as well. If the players can find it in them to continuing playing, fans will soon follow, and hopefully this will bring a damaged state, and city, back to better times.
Matt Osias can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.