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Rooting for an American city as it rises again

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By Rob Witwer

In 1999, the New Orleans Saints traded all of their draft picks — and their first- and third-round draft picks the next year — to the Washington Redskins for the first pick in the NFL draft. With it, they selected University of Texas running back Ricky Williams. The Saints went 3-13 that year, and within three years Williams would be playing for the Miami Dolphins.

Since their first season in 1967, the “Aints” history has been a study in futility. The team didn’t have a winning record in its first 20 seasons, prompting hometown fans to wear paper bags over their heads.

In 2005, the city of New Orleans — and the Saints — changed forever. That was when Hurricane Katrina destroyed the city, temporarily turning the Louisiana Superdome into a refuge for approximately 26,000 people. Rumors of rapes and murders in the building later turned out to be untrue, but the Superdome, which also sustained major exterior damage during the storm, became emblematic of the lowest point in the city’s history.

As the city began to rebuild, the Saints embarked on a path that would change their future as well. In 2006, they acquired quarterback Drew Brees from San Diego. Brees, who grew up in Dallas, adopted New Orleans as his new hometown.

According to the Saints website, Brees is “extremely active in the community and a fixture in the New Orleans area with his Brees Dream Foundation, with the mission to provide care, education and opportunities for children facing adversity.”

In addition, “his ongoing efforts have raised funds for Operation Kids, and he has also held the Drew Brees Gridiron Classic for youth football teams, the ‘Brees on the Seas’ youth deep-sea fishing event, hosts an annual golf tournament that that distributes money to children’s causes in New Orleans and San Diego, rebuilt homes in New Orleans with Habitat for Humanity, supported Children’s Hospital in New Orleans and numerous other charitable endeavors.”

And on Sunday, Brees and his teammates will give something else to the city of New Orleans: its first-ever berth in a Super Bowl.

It’s tough to root against Peyton Manning (who grew up a Saints fan) and the Indianapolis Colts, but in so many ways this year’s Super Bowl is more than just a football game. It’s the story of a great American city coming back from its darkest hour, and emerging stronger than ever.

Because of this, the Saints are more a part of the fabric of New Orleans than any other professional team.

Geaux Saints!

Rob Witwer is a former member of the state House of Representatives. He grew up in Evergreen and currently lives in Genesee.