All too often, discussions revolving around the role professional sports play in society focus solely on dollars and cents; stadium funding, tax revenues, economic boost. These factors are most certainly relevant, but they are far from the core and the crux of why professional sports are important to our cities and communities.
Sports bring people from all walks of life together in pursuit of a common goal. Sports breed camaraderie. Sports give us an escape from the stress brought on by the rigors of life and responsibility. Sports make us feel a part of something bigger than ourselves – and best of all, sports pick us up when we are feeling low.
There is no greater example of how a sporting organization can help a city dust itself off and pick up the piece,s than when the New Orleans Saints defeated the Indianapolis Colts 31-17 in Super Bowl XLIV.
Just a few years prior, New Orleans had been devastated by Hurricane Katrina, a category 5 storm that killed nearly two thousand people and left over $81 Billion of damage in its wake. But more than the sorrow suffered from loss of life or financial destruction, the experience of going through a natural disaster of this magnitude is crippling to one’s psyche.
Try as New Orleans did to be resilient in the face of adversity, it was as though the city had lost a part of its identity. With landmarks destroyed and residents displaced, the Big Easy was a fractured community.
By no means am I suggesting that the result of a single football game was the sole force vaulting the resurrection of New Orleans, but it was without question the icing on the cake. The faces of Drew Brees and Sean Payton victorious on Super Bowl Sunday will forever signify the point in time when Katrina could be ultimately filed into history.
Two years later the dynamic duo of Brees and Payton still had the Saints at the top of the NFL, winning 13 games in 2011, but then came the dark days of Bountygate.
A whistle-blower leaked stories about former Defensive Coordinator Gregg Williams’ bounty scheme that reportedly paid cash bonuses to defensive players who laid injurious hits on targeted offensive players. The fallout from the scandal left coach Sean Payton suspended for the duration of the entire 2012 season. Although he was never accused of paying a bounty or sanctioning the scheme, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell slapped down the harshest punishment ever enforced upon a coach, citing that Payton’s inaction was by default an endorsement of the program.
In Payton’s absence, the Saints floundered through a disappointing (7-9) campaign that saw the squad miss the playoffs for the first time in 4 years. They were missing a slice of their character and they completely lost their edge.
There was no doubt, that losing their coach played an enormous role in the team’s demise, but the real question was whether or not the reinstatement of Sean Payton would be able to reverse the franchise’s fortunes.
Five games into the 2013 campaign it would be suffice to say that the return of Sean Payton has yielded extraordinary results. The Saints are undefeated and have outscored their opponents 134-73. Drew Brees has been scarily efficient and according to Patriots coach Bill Belichick, Payton’s passing offense “attacks every square inch of the field.” To tag along with their high powered offense, the Saints have been great on the defensive side of the ball as well.
New Orleans has quietly, week after week, been staking their claim that they ought to be considered amongst the league’s best teams and one of the favorites to represent their conference at Super Bowl XLVIII.
As the only remaining undefeated team in the NFC, there’s a reason to believe that the Payton led Saints just might be hoisting the Lombardi Trophy for a second time this February. If they succeed, Brees and Payton would once again provide assistance to the city of New Orleans as residences attempt to forget that murky chapter, and close the book on the Bountygate.