The Saints are coming: “It’s going to be crazy in that building”

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Saints fans 12th man
(Photo: Parker Waters)

METAIRIE – The New Orleans Saints are having a long-awaited get-together with 70,000 of their closest friends in the Superdome on Sunday.

“It seems like it’s been quite a while,” Saints head coach Sean Payton said.

It sure does.

The last time the whole gang was together, Drew Brees was the team’s quarterback, Mercedes-Benz was the building’s sponsor, the roof hadn’t caught on fire, few people had heard of COVID-19 and no had heard of Hurricane Ida.

But now Jameis Winston is the quarterback, Caesars is the sponsor, the roof has been repaired, Ida is gone and even though COVID is still hanging around the restrictions that kept nearly all of the spectators away last season have been lifted.

When the Saints host the New York Giants they will be playing in front of a sellout home crowd for the first time in 637 days – since a 26-20 overtime loss to Minnesota in a divisional playoff after the 2019 season.

Yep, it seems like it’s been quite a while.

“All last season you’re not really playing with any type of fan base that’s making any noise, so it’s significant, especially when you have a venue like ours where many think it’s one of the most difficult places to play,” Payton said.

The 2-1 Saints are tied for sixth in the NFL in quarterback hits without having had the advantage of home crowd noise.

“It’s a big advantage when the opponent has trouble communicating,” Payton said. “I know defensively it’s an edge relative to your rush patterns and timing.”

Winston played four games against the Saints in the Superdome when he was Tampa Bay’s quarterback.

“It’s definitely the loudest place I’ve been at,” he said.

This will be the Saints’ first game in the Superdome in 41 days – since a 23-21 preseason victory against Jacksonville in front of a tiny crowd.

Then came Ida, forcing the cancellation of the team’s final preseason game, scheduled for the day before the storm made landfall, and the transfer of the Sept. 12 season opener against Green Bay to Jacksonville, Florida.

This will be the Saints’ first real game in the Dome in 259 days – since a 30-20 loss to Tampa Bay in a divisional playoff in January that wound up being Brees’ last game before retiring.

New York coach Joe Judge said he is expecting “one of the greatest atmospheres we’ve ever been in,” which he and his players probably welcome after hearing a lot of boos from their home crowd last Sunday while falling to 0-3.

“For those of us who are kind of historians of the game, you look back on that Katrina game, the first game back in the dome,” Judge said. “I would expect this to be very, very similar.”

Judge, of course, was referring to the Saints’ 23-3 victory over the Atlanta Falcons on Sept. 25, 2006 in the first game in the repaired Superdome more than a year after Hurricane Katrina.

This won’t be exactly like that, but it will be similar on a smaller scale.

The 2005 Saints were displaced for an entire season, playing their home opener against, of all teams, the Giants in New York’s home stadium.

These Saints were displaced for four weeks to the Dallas-Fort Worth area, then returned after defeating the Patriots 28-13 in Foxborough, Massachusetts, last Sunday. They were as eager to get home as any other displaced Louisianians.

“That town takes a lot of pride in New Orleans, a lot of pride in their team and the team takes a lot of pride in representing their city,” Judge said. “So this is going to be a tough game for us.”

It sure looks that way.

Saints linebacker Demario Davis reflected on the context of this game – an entire season without a full house, an entire off-season and preseason of anticipating a full house, then a tantalizing postponement of the return for three weeks.

That’s a lot of pent-up passion ready to gush forth.

“I just know what this thing means to the city and the fan base,” Davis said. “It’s going to be crazy in that building. I can’t wait for it.”

The Saints are coming.

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Les East

CCS/106.1 FM/Daily Iberian

Les East is a nationally renowned freelance journalist. The New Orleans area native’s blog on SportsNOLA.com was named “Best Sports Blog” in 2016 by the Press Club of New Orleans. For 2013 he was named top sports columnist in the United States by the Society of Professional Journalists. He has since become a valued contributor for CCS. The Jesuit High…

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