Here's New Orleans native and Philadelphia Daily News sports writer Bernard Fernandez on the subject of what's at stake in tonight's NFL playoff game between the Saints and the Eagles:
I am here to chronicle Saturday's NFC divisional playoff matchup of the Eagles and New Orleans Saints, in the refurbished Superdome, but I know, better than do my colleagues who will join me, that this game is about so much more than which team takes another step toward Super Bowl XLI. It is about hope and survival, and humanity's refusal to be beaten into submission. …
This no longer is the city I know. Let the good times roll? Many residents are angry, so much so that even their NFL team's surprising participation in the postseason can't totally camouflage their frustration. Volunteers for organizations such as Habitat for Humanity painstakingly gut and repair houses one by one, but billions of dollars in federal aid remain held up as politicians argue over how all that relief money should be spent. Insurance companies have canceled policies en masse; there still is no definitive plan on how to rebuild the levees to a Katrina-resistant level; and thousands of front lawns are dotted by FEMA trailers as the homes behind them remain in disarray and unoccupied. Each and every playground once operated by the New Orleans Recreation Department has become a trailer park, the green spaces once occupied by ball-playing children covered by the ugly, white cylinders reflective of a society in transition. …
Why weren't precious few city and state resources funneled into rebuilding houses instead of a sports palace? Weren't priorities skewed? Is winning a few football games so important when viewed against the backdrop of the ruined 9th Ward?
What those critics don't realize is that the Saints are a key component of the economic engine that powers New Orleans. There must be something to build upon, a reason for the stragglers to return, a promise of normalcy and better things.
Winning a game — even a playoff game — may not seem like a priority for the rebirth of a city if you're going by something like Maslow's hierarchy of needs. But yet I think, for the city of New Orleans, it feels like a priority.
Having said all that, it's still a football game, and so rooting for the Saints against my own hometown team is not an option. But let's just say that if the Eagles lose tonight I will do something I've never done before when my team loses: I'll keep the TV on to watch as the other team — and their fans and their city — celebrates.
Update: Great game. Now I guess I root for the Seahawks to beat the Bears so New Orleans gets another home game next week. (Wonder what kind of fines Fox will end up paying for this?)