On Monday night, the New Orleans Saints will take on their arch-rivals, the Atlanta Falcons in a prime time bout. The game is also the ten year anniversary of the Saints unforgettable return to the Superdome after Hurricane Katrina.
For the Saints, the stakes could not be any higher heading into Monday night’s contest.
While the odds are bleak for teams that start 0-2 making the playoffs, they are practically nonexistent for teams that start 0-3.
Additionally, despite Sean Payton’s efforts to downplay the significance of the evening, this is much more than just another game.
Aug 20, 2016; Houston, TX, USA; New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton during a game against the Houston Texans at NRG Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
ESPN Saint’s writer Mike Triplett even went so far as to call this a must win game for the Saints.
"“As I said in this week’s ESPN audio preview – players and coaches might not go so far as to call it a “must-win game” this early in the season. But I will.” -ESPN Saints bear writer Mike Triplett"
Sean Payton himself has attempted to be more reserved in his commentary leading up to the game. “Right now we’re knee deep in trying to clean up the mistakes and finding a way to get our first win, and that’s really the truth.”
When asked specifically about the anniversary component of Monday Night’s contest, Payton again downplayed the impact.
“A lot of these guys may not have even been playing football when that happened. So I think it’s more about the division opponent, Week 3 of the season, and finding a way to get our first win.”
Payton clearly doesn’t want to admit it, but ESPN’s Triplett is correct — this game is a turning point in the Saints season, for better or worse.
10 years ago on Monday night, Steve Gleason blocked a punt and announced with authority that the Saints were back in business. The euphoria of the crowd and the high emotions of that moment are memories that every true Saints fan holds dear.
October 7, 2012; New Orleans, LA, USA; A statue titled Rebirth featuring the likeness of former New Orleans Saints safety Steve Gleason blocking a punt by former Atlanta Falcons punter Michael Koenen on September 25, 2006 as seen outside before a game against the San Diego Chargers at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
10 years ago, a team returned home — to its city, to its region, and to its fans.
What happened was one of the most magical moments in sports history, and it launched the most prolific decade of football in the Saints history.
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The team and players bought into the city, the fans bought into the team, and both lifted each other to heights previous fans had only dreamed of.
Monday Night is set to be a celebration of that moment, a reminder of the magic that is so uniquely and beautifully the bond between the New Orleans Saints and the city and their fans.
Recently the Saints have bet everything that they can turn back the hands of time, that they can wind the clock back to recapture the glory of the past decade.
Sean Payton signed a five-year extension, and the team also extended Drew Brees. They aggressively pursued expensive free agents like Coby Fleener, and they have never abandoned the philosophy of trying to “win now” — while they still have future Hall-of-Fame quarterback Drew Brees.
Sep 1, 2016; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (9) walks off the field before the game against the Baltimore Ravens at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports
Monday night we will have a definitive answer to the validity of this strategy. The city will be buzzing and the Superdome will be absolutely electric.
If you have a chance to be at the game seize it, it will undoubtedly be a night to remember. For the Saints one of two things will happen.
The worst possible thing for the Saints to do would be to lose this game.
After the two heartbreaking losses they have already endured, the injuries they have been subjected to, the team needs to learn what it feels like to win, especially to reinforce the work ethic in the younger players.
It would be a crushing blow to the psyche of the team and the seeds of doubt would blossom and grow.
If we can’t win on this night — in this place — then where can we win?
Alternatively, the Saints could once again turn the tides of fortune by leaning on the people who love them most.
A decade ago, this very game was the springboard that buoyed the Saints to new heights. This could be the turning point, a team instilled with the belief and undying support of the greatest fans in the world, a city and a people who love the Saints more than anything.
The bond between the city and team is as uniquely New Orleans as a beignet at Café du Monde, St. Louis Cemetery #1, or hearing the sounds of improv jazz on the streets.
Sept 25, 2006; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Saints fans hold up signs during the first quarter of the Monday Night Football game against the Atlanta Falcons at the Louisiana Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Derek E. Hingle, US PRESSWIRE
New Orleans is a city that stands alone in the lore of the United States, and the Saints are their team.
Sean Payton may downplay the significance of this, and Mike Triplett may call this a must-win, but it goes far deeper, to the core of the bond between team and city.
Monday Night we will have the answer: is there any magic left in New Orleans for the Sean Payton Era?