Now, Horn vows, the Saints have a sense of purpose. "Even before Katrina hit," he said, "we had it in our minds from late last year that we ain't having no more. Our motto this year from the start of training camp was, We're grinders. Wherever we've got to go, whatever we've got to do, we'll grind it out. We're not going to use this hurricane as an excuse. That's what people are waiting for, but we won't do it. We appreciate the love that we're getting, but we don't want any sympathy or pity. We want teams to come at us the way they have been--trust me."
With chips on their shoulders and lumps in their throats, the Saints gave many of their displaced fans a few hours of diversion and, ultimately, joy on Sunday. Horn, McAfee and other players said that during key junctures of the game, their thoughts flashed back to the evacuees they'd visited in shelters. But whether that motivation will last throughout the season remains to be seen.
In the meantime New Orleans's faithful fans--and all the new followers the Saints are picking up--can take pride in a team that relishes the opportunity to salve the hurt of a reeling region. "We're playing for everybody who experienced loss and tragedy during the hurricane," McAfee says. "When they see something like what LSU did on Saturday or what we did in Carolina, they say, 'Maybe there is hope.' It's a very small piece, but if we can show people that hope is real, we'll be doing our part."