The New Orleans Saints football team won its home opening game 23 to 3 against the visiting Atlanta Falcons on Monday night. But for some, the game was more than just a sporting event. For residents of the hurricane-ravaged city of New Orleans, it was a major turning point in the city's fortunes.
ESPN Television sportscaster Jeremy Schaap predicted an emotionally-charged game. "It's going to be loud,” he said. “It's going to be emotional. There will be many tears shed."
And Times Picayune Columnist Chris Rose said, win or lose, just having the game is already a big victory for the city of New Orleans. "It would be great if we win, but even if we get our asses kicked, in the morning everyone is going to wake up and say, we did it."
What the city did, was something many thought would never happen. Once the symbol of a city's anguish, the New Orleans Superdome became the rallying cry for the city's rebirth.
It was a very different picture just a little more than a year ago, after winds from Hurricane Katrina ripped away parts of the Superdome's roof. Water leaked into the stadium. The field, the seats, the concourse, were severely damaged as 30,000 people gathered inside the stadium to ride out the storm. Some believed there would never be another opening night.
But 13 months and $180 million later, the Superdome has become the centerpiece of the city's economic recovery.
Superdome manager Doug Thornton says at one point as many as 350 workers toiled 12 to 16 hour days to make sure the dome was ready.
"The destruction was massive,” says Thornton. “I think the numbers are just staggering, 800,000 square feet (244,000 sq. meters) of sheet rock and ceiling tile had to be removed and replaced. We had 1.6 million square feet (488,000 sq meters) of carpeting that had to be taken out and replaced. All of the interior spaces, a lot of the electronic equipment in here had to be replaced. But we used that as an opportunity to upgrade many of the systems."
For the 70,000 fans who came to see the opening night game, it was a timely investment in a city yearning for better days. As one fan put it, the Saint's win over the Falcons was also a victory against Hurricane Katrina.