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As distractions go, Mercedes-Benz Superdome re-opening beats them all

Photos from the Saints thrilling 23-3 win over the Falcons in the return to the Superdome on Sept. 25, 2006. Photos Saints Photographer Michael C. Hebert.

John DeShazier was a sports writer and columnist for The Times-Picayune from 1992-2012. He covered the re-opening game and this is his column that appeared in the Sept. 26, 2006 Times-Picayune. Reprinted with permission.

The perfect end to a perfect Monday in New Orleans would've been the mass reconstruction of thousands of homes, the go-ahead given for hundreds of thousands of still-displaced citizens to come home, the vow to return by 95 percent of the businesses that closed up shop or left town and sprang up somewhere else after Katrina.

But for Saints fans, watching the Saints plant a cleat squarely in the Falcons' rear end was a pretty satisfying substitute.

Nearly lost amid the clutter of a week's worth of hoopla and enough pregame grandiosity to rival a Super Bowl was the fact that there still was a football game to be played. The Saints, thank goodness, didn't let that minor detail escape their attention.

Instead, they plugged into their electrified home crowd and earned every drop of affection they were showered with in their first regular-season game in the Superdome since Dec. 26, 2004. And they continued to defy expectations this season, running their record to 3-0 for the first time since 2002 with a 23-3 victory over Atlanta.

A year after finishing 3-13, the Saints now are spreading the gospel, creating believers from a fan base and city looking for someone, and something, to believe in.

"It's the loudest I've ever heard it in pregame warm-ups," defensive end Will Smith said. "I don't think anyone went to work today."

The day did have a holiday feel to it, and, obviously, it'd be easy to fall into a trap and make more of the game than it was. To somehow link New Orleans' recovery to the rebound of the Saints and the reopening of the Superdome. And that would be a colossal mistake because while one entity sparkles, the other continues to rest in its squalor, a national eyesore that deserves headline display until the repair work is commissioned and done.

But for a region that needs to scream -- something other than the vitriol spewed at FEMA, insurance adjusters and the state's Road Home program -- the Saints gave a good reason to yell.

And laugh. And cry.

The latter of which grown men did while the Saints were being announced in pregame introductions.

"I was crying like a baby out there," fullback Mike Karney said. "I just got caught up in the moment. I was just so happy for the fans and the people of this city. I had tears in my eyes when I came out on the field. It was just a good feeling to know all 70,000 fans were all there for you."

"It was crazy," rookie receiver Marques Colston said. "I felt the stadium moving. It's indescribable the vibe you get when you leave that tunnel."

Once the Saints left it, they never gave fans a reason to sit down or shut up.

The Falcons' first possession ended in a New Orleans touchdown, with Steve Gleason blocking a punt and Curtis Deloatch falling on it in the end zone. In the second quarter, nursing a 17-3 lead, the Saints bent enough to allow Atlanta to drive to their 2-yard line, sacked Michael Vick and held the Falcons to a field-goal attempt, then blocked Morten Andersen's 25-yard try.

When John Carney kicked a 51-yard field goal as time expired in the first half, giving the Saints a 20-3 lead, the lone unknown was where the revelry would commence at the final gun.

Still, it's an odd sensation, this whole business of watching the Saints remain unbeaten after three games. The friendly neighborhood palm reader didn't foresee this, not with the Saints making so many offseason changes, not considering the fact it usually takes time for a team to gel as well as the Saints apparently have.

But who, more than New Orleanians, deserves to experience a "good" odd?

Fans receive "good" kinds of odd relative to how good their football team is. And from here, and for now, the Saints look like a good football team.

You'll have a hard time recalling a more complete paddling administered by the Saints, against anyone. You'll have a hard time remembering the last time a New Orleans team so thoroughly was fueled by emotion, the screams of fans so thick they seemed to weigh down the Falcons.

But then, Monday was destined to be different from the second the league announced that Sept. 25 would serve as the reopening of the Superdome. It was special.

"For us, as players, we wanted to win to put the icing on the cake," receiver Joe Horn said.

It wasn't totally perfect, for a city that could stand an injection of perfect. But it was pretty close to it.

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