Saints have big opportunity

Published 12:00 am Saturday, September 30, 2006

That moment Saints fans have been waiting for over a year to see is almost upon us. The first chance to see the New Orleans Saints live and in person in the Louisiana Superdome since 2004 is only five days away.

The response to the Saints&8217; return has been almost miraculous. A team which received plenty of moral support &8212; but very little in the way of ticket sales &8212; has sold out its entire season on season tickets alone.

The NFL has taken steps to make Monday night&8217;s game against the Falcons a huge spectacle, featuring concerts by U2, the Goo Goo Dolls and Green Day. Some 700 media outlets are expected to cover the game, one of which happens to be Al Jazeera.

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While their interest in the game is anyone&8217;s guess, the intrigue to sports fans is pretty obvious.

A franchise that has seen nothing but bad luck &8212; which only seemed to be magnified by what Hurricane Katrina did to them last season &8212; has the eyes of the world on it and the opportunity to truly take the spotlight.

The Saints are 2-0 on the season, and even if the wins were over pretty awful teams, they were on the road.

New Orleans showed mental toughness that hasn&8217;t been seen in years past in winning both games. Odds are a terrible mistake would have been made in the Jim Haslett era during the win at Cleveland, and the Saints almost certainly would have completely panicked when Green Bay started its comeback attempt last week.

Standing in the way is, of course, the Saints&8217; biggest rival and one of the bigger surprises of the early NFL season.

The Atlanta Falcons have finally decided they didn&8217;t have to turn Michael Vick into Steve Young, as a spread option attack has netted them over 500 yards rushing in two games thus far this season. Running back Warrick Dunn has outrushed 26 entire NFL teams all by himself so far.

The odds are clearly stacked against the Saints in this one, with a young team that is still struggling to find its identity taking on a veteran squad of Falcons on a hot streak.

Head coach Sean Payton has done quite well so far to bring this team together, and there will be great days ahead. Unfortunately, this Monday night may not be one of them.

The simple fact that the Saints are returning to home base is an unbelievably encouraging sight, and will be emotional for all involved. Hopefully, the symbolism of the rebirth of the Superdome &8212; less than a year ago a complete shell that many were considering destroying &8212; will be a catalyst for the rest of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast to finish the job of rebuilding.

The game should be quite the sight, but it would be oh so much better with a Saints win.

Let&8217;s hope we get our wish.

Tim Cottrell is the sports editor of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3632 or by e-mail at