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"OH, WHEN the trumpet sounds its call
Oh, when the trumpet sounds its call
Lord, how I want to be in that number
When the trumpet sounds its call...."
From When the Saints Go Marching In
IT IS A FRANCHISE BUILT ON faith, on the eternal conviction that things will be better someday, that in the end all will turn out sweeter than we could ever conceive, because together we believe it so. The very name, Saints, is derived from a gospel turned jazz song about the deepest, most fervent faith of all: That a glorious hereafter awaits in heaven for those deserving and wanting and praying. And if ever there was music for a team, this is that music. And this is that team.
The Saints were born on a promise that someday there would be a giant indoor stadium that would protect them from drenching summer storms and autumn rains. They would need a roof, so plans were drawn up for a massive dome that would cost less than $40 million and open in 1970. Architects planned, while the Saints began playing in 1967 at Tulane Stadium, a giant old bowl squeezed into an Uptown New Orleans neighborhood. John Gilliam ran back the first kickoff in Saints history for a touchdown; Tom Dempsey kicked a 63-yard field goal in 1970. They won 30 games in eight years while the Dome remained a dream.
Then it opened in the summer of 1975, a building so grand that the Astrodome (nicknamed the Eighth Wonder of the World) could fit comfortably inside, five years late and priced at more than four times the projected cost. It would host concerts and conventions and impact the landscape and economics of New Orleans like no other institution. Evangelists preached here, and performers sang. Michael Jordan made a famous jump shot here, and Chris Webber called a timeout he didn't have. Brett Favre ran circles like a little boy.
But mostly the Dome came to signify even greater hope for the Saints. In 1980 fans wore bags over their heads and called their team the 'Aints, but by the middle of that decade and well into the '90s, the team rallied to respectability behind a stellar defense whose four Pro Bowl linebackers were known as the Dome Patrol. The Saints and the Superdome became linked like few teams are joined to their stadiums: the Cubs and Wrigley, the Red Sox and Fenway, the Yankees and Yankee Stadium (new or old).
Then came Hurricane Katrina on Aug. 28, 2005, roaring ashore in southeastern Louisiana, flooding 80% of New Orleans and killing nearly 2,000 people. It was an event that changed the city forever, and no single edifice more than the Superdome—where thousands gathered for days, desperately seeking shelter, food, safety or just the secure embrace of mankind. Images of the Dome were transmitted around the world, a poignant, often terrifying symbol of the city's suffering (and the government's incompetence). For those who had visited the building during times of celebration and play, none more than Saints fans, it was a heartbreaking image—joy turned to pain overnight and growing worse by the day.