King Kaufman's Sports Daily

The Saints' homecoming is a victory in every sense as they pound the Falcons and New Orleans erupts in joy.


Salon Staff
September 26, 2006 8:00PM (UTC)

Some nights, it's hard to be a cynic.

"A Saints win would be a little too perfect, dramaturgically," a certain misanthrope wrote in his NFL Week 3 preview Friday, but as New Orleans' team returned to the Superdome to a roaring welcome, it looked like the script was going to play out perfectly against the Atlanta Falcons, cast as Apollo Creed for the evening.

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On the game's first series, Falcons quarterback Michael Vick sprinted left on third-and-4, was hit from behind by linebacker Scott Fujita and fumbled. Safety Bryan Scott had a chance to recover, but instead of falling on the bouncing ball at the Falcons 30, he tried to pick it up and run for what would have been a touchdown.

Instead, he knocked it out of bounds and the Falcons retained possession. The Saints had had a chance for a huge play early, one that would have sent the crowd to the moon and the Falcons reeling a minute into the game, but it wasn't to be because, hey, this is real life, not some corny old movie.

Sometimes you're the good guy and everybody's rooting for you and you strap it on tight and do your best and it just doesn't work out, and not for any good reason either. It's not because tragedy produces catharsis in an audience or failure speaks to the human condition or at least sets up a sequel. It's just because sometimes things don't work out.

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On the next play the Saints blocked a punt and fell on it in the end zone. Touchdown. 7-0. The crowd went to the moon. The Falcons saw little birdies flying around their heads. They never recovered. They never had a good moment. They lost 23-3.

It couldn't have been scripted any better, everybody kept saying, and they were right.

Life isn't like the movies, it's true. Sometimes, life works out better. Movies about New Orleans tend to be kind of a downer, after all. For one night, New Orleans got just what it needed, a jumping-over-fences movie, "Breaking Away" and "Hoosiers" and "The Natural" and "Seabiscuit" and a hundred others all rolled into one.

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The Falcons might not agree, but everybody else left the theater on a cloud.

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ESPN's annoying habit of bringing celebrities into the booth for long, pointless interviews during the game, which really has to stop, worked out Monday night.

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Spike Lee, who made a documentary about Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath called "When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts," seemed like an appropriate guest on a night when the football game was the central focus but not the only one.

Tony Kornheiser asked him what stood out for him from his time making the movie. "Just the courage of the people," he said, "how they continue. And I don't want to sound like a doomsayer, but a year later, it's not right here. It's still not right."

Later, Kornheiser asked Lee, "Are you optimistic or pessimistic with everything you see tonight, as opposed to what's outside?"

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Lee stuck his tongue between his teeth and chuckled.

"Go ahead, Spike," Joe Theismann said. "Tell the truth, c'mon."

"I'm not going to pull a Kanye up here," Lee said, dissolving in laughter. "No, no Kanye West for me, folks. America!"

During a live fundraiser for Katrina victims on NBC a year ago, West broke from his script and ad-libbed a 63-second diatribe punctuated by his famous line, "George Bush doesn't care about black people."

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"I'm assuming you'd like to see more done," Theismann said helpfully. "Is that OK?"

"Yes."

Good stuff. I'd trade it in for not having to sit through what felt like four-hour interviews with Jamie Foxx and Dwyane Wade as the games continued mostly uncommented upon. But for a special occasion, sure.

I'd been worried that ESPN would paper over the tremendous work and hardships that remain in favor of the unbroken-will-of-the-people story line, but that didn't happen. Without turning a great evening into a downer, the network did a nice job of keeping the celebration in perspective.

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It was Lee, though, who said it best. Kornheiser -- whose considerable talents have mostly been wasted in the Monday-night booth but who got to put them to work here -- asked Lee if he'd gotten a sense of why the Saints are important to New Orleans in a way that teams might not be in other cities.

"This is all they have, really," he said. "It's four hours, then back to your FEMA trailer."

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Just wondering as I watched U2 and Green Day team up to perform before the game and then again at halftime: Weren't there any New Orleans musicians available for the gig?

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U2 guitar player the Edge has raised lots of money to buy musical instruments for New Orleanians, but still. Nothing against U2, who were one of the reasons I became a musician -- not that they should be blamed for that.

But they're reaching a Rolling Stones-like level of NFL corporate-event ubiquity lately, and their appearance with Green Day looked more like a big TV-music biz-NFL synergy deal than an appropriate booking. Where were the Neville Brothers? Where were the Marsalis brothers? Harry Connick Jr. was in the house. Couldn't he have tickled an ivory or two? Dr. John? The Funky Meters? Galactic?

Irma Thomas and Allen Toussaint were relegated to the national anthem. Kermit Ruffins, a local heavyweight, was supposed to play trumpet with them but was absent. Local legends the Rebirth Brass Band were outside with the Goo Goo Dolls and others.

The Goo Goo Dolls?

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I'm sure there are lots of popular young New Orleans musicians and rappers I don't know about because I'm old and out of touch and had to bother friends for some of the names above. Where were they all while the Goo Goo Dolls, for crying out loud, played?

If New Orleans is known for one thing, it's music. It's bigger than the Saints and bigger than the Superdome, and it should have been showcased.

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If you'd like to help out the people of New Orleans, here's a link to the Bush-Clinton Katrina Fund, and here's a Craigslist listing of organizations offering aid.

Previous column: Big show returns to the Big Easy

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