New Orleans Overload

Fans embrace players like New Orleans Saints running back Mike Bell, but how big of a role can players like Bell play in helping rebuild the city?

What if the New Orleans Saints had lost Super Bowl XLIV?

Would Mayor-elect  Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu call off efforts to rebuild the most affected areas of the city still ravaged by Hurricane Katrina?

Would Governor Bobby Jindal turn his focus to other state projects instead of rebuilding the Lower Ninth Ward?

Would America just forget about New Orleans?

No, no, and no. And that’s what I find so irritating about the assumptions surrounding the Saints winning last night’s Super Bowl 31-17 over the Indianapolis Colts. With all the hyperbole spewed at us by CBS yesterday, you would think the Super Bowl was make-or-break for the future of New Orleans, and had the Saints lost the Super Bowl, the city rocked by Hurricane Katrina would somehow slip from our consciousness.

I do not dispute the Saints have been important to New Orleans. What annoys me, though, is how “important” has been used to say “integral to the function and survival of the city.” I’ll agree the Saints have given the city an identity, but so has Bourbon Street, blues and Mardi Gras. There’s been this notion all season that New Orleans is the only city that relies on its most beloved professional sports franchise to boost morale.

As a former Minnesotan, I can tell you the people of Minneapolis take just as much pride in the Vikings, Twins and Wild — Timberwolves, not so much — as New Orleans does the Saints. Still, that’s not a picture sports journalists or pundits would paint had any of those teams made a title game. It’s not sexy enough. What natural disaster did Minneapolis endure? Blizzards don’t count.

The bigger issue is this: CBS and sports journalists everywhere mistook context for reason to decide history in the moment. Stories like this team from this city winning this Super Bowl certainly matter now, but time will tell how big of an impact the win really has. The problem with defining this Super Bowl win as somehow crucial or pivotal in the rebuilding of New Orleans is obvious – we don’t know how much this matters. For now, it’s a great reason to celebrate. (See Bourbon Street for evidence.)

What has yet to take place and will ultimately decide how much this win “mattered” is the massive, tangible change that could be spurned by the Saints bringing New Orleans back into the public’s awareness. This Super Bowl win may result in nothing more than a nice trophy, some championship rings and fond memories. And you know what? That’s OK. That’s all you can expect from pro sports. But something even bigger has to take place in New Orleans for this Super Bowl to live up to its own hype.

That’s not fair to the Saints, New Orleans or even fans.

That’s what happens when the media tries to make something bigger than it really is. This was a moral victory for a city in desperate need of a win.

The reality is it may never be anything more than a moral victory, and that should be enough.