NEW ORLEANS -- The song has been adopted by this weather-beaten city as a rallying cry of sorts, a promise of brighter days and better things to come. And when Green Day and U2 paired up to perform it in the Superdome just before the team's Week 3 home opener kicked off last month, The Saints Are Coming sounded like the perfect melding of music and moment.
But who really knew they would arrive this quickly? And how far can this feel-good story of renaissance -- for both a city and its bedraggled NFL football team -- possibly extend?
Suffice to say the end was nowhere in sight on Sunday at the sold-out and silly-with-anticipation Superdome, where the New Orleans Saints improved to 5-1 and took firm command of first place in the NFC South with a stirring 27-24 win over the favored Philadelphia Eagles.
"Right now, this team and this city in a sense have one heartbeat,'' said Saints tight end Ernie Conwell, moments after New Orleans won on John Carney's 31-yard field goal as time expired, capping a mind-boggling 16-play, 72-yard, 8:26 game-ending drive. "It's almost hard to put into words. You have to be here, you almost have to have lived here to understand what it means. It almost transcends professional sports.
"We want the nation's attention to remain on Louisiana and New Orleans. And we know that if we win and play well, we're going to keep some attention on the city.''
Sadly, Conwell is correct. The more the resurgent Saints win, the more the national spotlight will remain on New Orleans, the scene of such hell and high water in the wake of Katrina last year. If football is the vehicle that gets that necessary job done, so be it, the residents of this city say. After all, it's hard to rally around a city council or an embattled mayor.
Just as they were in the depths of last year, when they were displaced and defeated, the Saints today are a pretty good reflection of their on-the-way-back city. They're calling the Superdome Payton's Place these days, in honor of the Saints rookie head coach, Sean Payton, who has brought the franchise back to life after last year's 3-13 debacle. Back to contention. Back to a place of real significance in New Orleans.
The Saints matter again, and Sunday's game against the 4-1, first-place Eagles was viewed as their biggest litmus test of the young season. After all, New Orleans' first four wins were all rather explainable in the eyes of some. The Saints had beaten three bad teams -- the Browns, Packers and Bucs -- and had another win handed to them by the football gods, who ordained that they had to prevail over Atlanta in their emotional and electric Monday-night Week 3 homecoming to a renovated Superdome. Thus, the narrow 21-18 loss at Carolina in Week 4 was probably the best indication of where the Saints truly stacked up this season. And don't forget, New Orleans last week nearly fell to visiting Tampa Bay, which was giving rookie sixth-round quarterback Bruce Gradkowski his first NFL start.
Let them beat the Eagles, winners of three straight and fresh off that slugfest win against Dallas last week, and then the Saints could take stock of themselves heading into their Week 7 bye. Consider it done, and it's time to recognize that something really good is building in New Orleans.