The New Orleans Saints played the Chicago Bears at Soldier FIeld for the NFC Championship and the right to go to Super Bowl XLI. The Saints made a valiant effort, but fell short. We watched the game at Vaughan's Lounge, of course, surrounded by a ruckus crowd of friends, neighbors, and strangers. This one, as the editorial in the Times-Picayune noted in today's paper, is about more than football:

EDITORIAL: Who Dat nation

Sunday, January 21, 2007

The black-and-gold faithful have waited for this moment forever.

Since Saints kick returner John Gilliam scored on the first play of the franchise's first game at Tulane Stadium on Sept. 17, 1967, fans have dreamed of a championship season like this one.

When the Saints take the field today in Chicago, they will carry the frustrations and hopes of all those people who have been faithful for 40 years, people who have suffered great disappointment over the life of the team, people who were dealt an even more cruel blow by Hurricane Katrina and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on Aug. 29, 2005.

The other game this weekend may be purely about football, but the Saints battle with the Bears is about faith, redemption and triumph over adversity.

If that sounds like a grandiose way to describe a football game, so be it. For fans who stuck with the team for four painful decades and who are working to rebuild this wonderful place or still trying to get back home, having the Saints on the verge of a Super Bowl is a heavenly feeling.

Just ask Sister Paul, who was mother superior for the Little Sisters of the Poor's home for the elderly in New Orleans before Katrina. "We are total fanatics," she told an Associated Press reporter before the Saints/Eagles playoff game.

The order has moved its elderly charges to Mobile and elsewhere since the storm, but they follow the Saints religiously. "We're praying for a win. It's going to be wonderful, it's going to be a miracle, kid," 97-year-old resident Andree Briant said before the Eagles game.

Surely the prayers are being said for today's game as well.

Who Dat say a win at Soldier Field is a long shot? Not us.

We believe.

With the Little Sisters of the Poor cheering them on? With an offensive mastermind like Sean Payton calling the plays? With Drew Brees and Deuce McAllister and Reggie Bush in the backfield? With Will Smith and Charles Grant harassing the opposing quarterback?

A little cold weather shouldn't be a problem for this bunch.

Neither should motivation.

There are endless reasons for this team to do its best to win this game. For a community that has embraced them. For every player who was displaced by the storm. For every player who made greater New Orleans his home post-Katrina. For the chance to keep playing, to keep this magical season going.

As Deuce McAllister said after last weekend's defeat of the Eagles: "I didn't want my season to end. That was just the driving force on my part, after everything this team and these fans have been through. . . . I don't want it to end."

Neither do we.

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