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New Orleans’ rebirth draws closer to completion

When the Superdome reopened in September 2006 with cries from U2 and Green Day that “the Saints are coming!,” it appeared that New Orleans had made its first tangible progress on the long road to recovering from a hurricane that struck the area 12 months earlier.

Now, more than four years after Katrina nearly destroyed the city, New Orleans is back.

Thanks to the Saints.

Indeed, somewhat lost in that thrilling NFC title game for the ages is the reality that the long-suffering Saints are finally getting a shot at an NFL title, 42 years after joining the NFL.

Coincidentally, it was in New Orleans that the Steelers shed 42 seasons of frustration some 35 years ago by beating, yes, the Vikings in Super Bowl IX.

This is for everybody in this city,” coach Sean Payton said after the 31-28 overtime classic. “This stadium used to have holes in it and used to be wet. It’s not wet anymore. This is for the city of New Orleans.”

And everybody is rejoicing. “I’m a grown man and I’m crying,” 48-year-old Richard Reeves of Slidell told the Associated Press.

“The New Orleans Saints have done more for race relations in this city than anything,” said Bob Hinyub of Gretna, per the AP. “Everybody here is black and gold. Nobody is black and white.”

“This is indescribable,” Linda Ruiz, 53, told the AP. “It’s like a dream. It’s really like a dream. All I can say is God answers prayers.”

“I know it’s a football team, but it means so much,” Richard Brown, 66, told the AP. “Way past a diversion. It’s real. The people feel it.”

And they’ll be feeling it for the next two weeks and beyond, regardless of the outcome to Super Bowl XLIV.

And if this team can do what the Steelers did in early 1975, we could be witnessing the dawn of a new dynasty in New Orleans.

Either way, and regardless of whether the Saints win four Super Bowls in six years or resort to their long-suffering ways of the past, the bond between the team and the city is now permanent, and unbreakable.