Saints’ season could lead to rebirth of their city

Michael Moses

The city of New Orleans needs more than Lil’ Wayne. A 5-foot-nothing rapper can’t hold the city’s rep forever. Hurricane Katrina ripped through not only houses, but hearts of the city’s people. You’ve heard the stories of civilians living in the Superdome during the aftermath. Sure, we’re four years past the catastrophe, but you don’t think the city is still suffering? You don’t think the fans are still hungrier than ever?

Remember when the New Orleans Saints used to be the Madden favorite? Any time you and your boys would pick up the sticks, you’d pick one of three teams: the Colts, the Patriots or good ol’ New Orleans. All three teams had explosive offenses with phenomenal quarterbacks and talent at wide receiver that was deeper than the Pacific. And the Saints always had the upper hand at running back. Hell, Reggie Bush is better in the game than he is in real life. But one thing always separated the Saints from the top tier in Madden tourneys.

Their defense stunk.

Welcome to 2009, where the Saints are not only a Madden favorite, but they’re also 7-0. And everyone who talks football is wondering if Louisiana is going to have an unbeaten NFL team just four years after Hurricane Katrina.

New Orleans’ perennially mediocre defense has scored six times this season and ranks 14th against the pass and 10th against the run, respectable numbers when your offense is putting up a league-high 428 yards a game. The Saints have a league leading 16 interceptions, with free safety Darren Sharper tied with a league-leading seven.

Drew Brees, statistically the league’s best quarterback in the past three seasons, has led the offense to a commanding 39 points per game. His passer rating of 107.6 ranks third in the NFL. His receivers are truly a gift from the football heavens. Marques Colston may be the only big name on the field, but defenders around the league know the depth chart of the Saints’ wide receivers. Lance Moore, Devery Henderson and even Robert Meachem are all fully capable of burning opposing corners. Meachem, perhaps the biggest sleeper of the whole crew, has eight catches on the season and averages almost 25 yards per catch. It’s almost like head coach Sean Payton says, “Rob, go in and run as fast as you can, turn around about halfway down the field and catch the ball!”

If you watched the Saints in this week’s Monday Night Football game against the Atlanta Falcons, you probably heard the commentators speaking about New Orleans’ newly found running game. If you ask a here-and-there NFL fan, they would probably think Reggie Bush is having a career year given the success of the team, but he’s actually listed as the Saints’ third-string running back. Pierre Thomas and Mike Bell are doing all the dirty work, and doing it well.

Thomas is averaging a spectacular 5.8 yards per carry, while the Robin to his Batman, Bell, is getting 4.4. ESPN’s crew summed it up best during the game: The Saints had too many running plays last year and were not good at any. Now they have very few running plays and are good at all of them. During the offseason they condensed the playbook, and it’s obviously paying off greatly.

The Saints have the easiest remaining schedule of anyone in the NFL. One game stands out in their schedule, another Monday night matchup at the Superdome when Tom Brady and the once unbeaten Patriots come into town. A coincidence? Fate? Maybe.

With all this said, why the hell couldn’t the Saints go unbeaten?

Randy Rue, a sophomore thrower for the Kent State track and field team, is a New Orleans native and a Saints fan at heart.

“It would be magic,” he says, about a Super Bowl victory and undefeated season for Drew Brees and company. “It would never fully heal the city, nothing ever will. Katrina killed so much more than lives, but we never lost faith in our Saints. No matter what, no matter where they went to play that season, our fans followed. This wouldn’t be a fairy-tale ending, it wouldn’t be icing on the cake. It would be a rebirth of a city.”

Contact sports columnist Michael Moses at [email protected].