JEFFREY BROWN: And here to tell us more about the city and its Saints, Garland Robinette, host of “The Think Tank,” a call-in talk show on WWL Radio in New Orleans, and Brian Allee-Walsh, a writer and columnist for NewOrleans.com. He’s been covering the Saints for more than two decades.
Well, Garland Robinette, you and your listeners were part of the celebration. Can you give us a taste of what it is like there now?
GARLAND ROBINETTE, WWL Radio: I wasn’t around for the celebration after the end of World War II, but I think this one was bigger.
JEFFREY BROWN: Tell us, what was it like? What is happening on the streets?
GARLAND ROBINETTE: It’s — it’s a revival that is really hard to believe.
Right before we came on the air here, I was informed that the Saints had landed and they had come out of the airport. And they are greeted from a crowd estimated to be over 100,000. It gives you an idea how intense the feelings are here.
JEFFREY BROWN: Well, Garland, explain that for those on the outside. What is the role of the Saints for this city, especially given all that’s happened?
GARLAND ROBINETTE: You know, a couple of days ago, I would have given you another answer. But I think, at this point in time, one man’s opinion, they have awakened us to our own recovery.
We’re doing great in the digital industry. We’re doing great in attracting young people here like we never have before. Cost of living here is better than most of the places in the United States. So, innovators and inventors want to come here. And our educational system, which has almost been — always been the laughingstock, now is thought to be one of the better prototypes in the country.
And we hear it, but I don’t think we assimilated it. But, most importantly, when the Saints won, we saw the blacks and whites and the browns and the yellows in this city, that are often apart, come together. And I think it made us realize that our recovery is just about done.
And, on top of that, the things we thought we couldn’t cure, we can. So, I think they, kind of accidentally, awakened us to our own recovery.
JEFFREY BROWN: And Brian Allee-Walsh, you have covered them for a long time. This is a team that was, famously, not very good, right? They were the Aints, not the Saints.
BRIAN ALLEE-WALSH, NewOrleans.com: Yes, but no longer.
I mean, like Garland said, you know, for this franchise to have done — to reawaken the community and the region, the Gulf Coast region, is just — it’s an incredible story that, 24 hours after winning the game last night, it still hasn’t sunk in for me.
And I’m in the Fort Lauderdale area, so far away, and I can’t wait to get back to New Orleans. I talked with my wife, and she said, like Garland explained, it’s just incredible. It is Mardi Gras 10 times over, because it is such a local story.
JEFFREY BROWN: Tell us how they did it, though, all those high-risk moves I referred to in our setup.
JEFFREY BROWN: How did they pull it off?
BRIAN ALLEE-WALSH: You mean Who Dat? How did the Who Dat pull it off?
BRIAN ALLEE-WALSH: I will tell you. You know, it’s — if you have — if you have followed this team through the season — and Garland would know this — is that, you know, you felt something special about mid-season.
And they have — they have had that feeling before for a couple years, not often. But, as this thing escalated, and it — and it took off as the season progressed, you could see that this thing was going to end up being something special.
It’s no surprise that they walked off with the crown last night. And the way they did it is how they have been winning all season long, opportunistic defense, a great quarterback who stays poised and just Who Dat Nation and a lot of people pulling in their — in their favor.
And this isn’t just a regional victory here. This is a — this is a countrywide victory. And there is Who Dat fans all over the world.
JEFFREY BROWN: Well, Brian, you — have you felt that? I mean, we’re talking about these losing seasons. I remember, as a football fan, watching when fans there would put bags over their heads at the Superdome.
JEFFREY BROWN: But has the relationship between the city and the team been so close throughout, even through the losing years?
BRIAN ALLEE-WALSH: Well, it has, but it has reached full-throttle this season.
And — and I can’t tell you what a great public relations situation that the team has created. And — and it is genuine. This is not a phony feeling, when you hear Drew Brees. And not just Drew Brees. It’s from the top player, the top echelon, down to the 53rd player on this roster.
These people, these players genuinely, genuinely want to win for the city. And they — and they understand that — what it can mean to the recovery of this area. So, it’s nothing phony about this, when they say that — that they are doing this for Who Dat Nation and all that stuff. They really, genuinely — genuinely mean it.
JEFFREY BROWN: You know, Garland, I was reading an interesting quote from Drew Brees. He says he’s often asked whether it feels like a burden to have the weight of the city on his shoulder. And he said, “No, but we look at it as a responsibility.”
But what do — what do you think he means? You have been watching this team for a while. What does that mean?
GARLAND ROBINETTE: I am not sure what it means, but I know who the man is that spoke it.
This is an extraordinary individual. And you have sports heroes all over the United States, but this guy and his wife, and many members of the team — Brian can tell you this — they do things in the value of millions of dollars. They do things helping children and people that need help without a camera there, without the media knowing about it.
They are not doing this to have good P.R. for the Saints. They are doing it because these are really good people. I don’t know where the hell they came from, but they…
GARLAND ROBINETTE: … they are so unusual, that that’s why we have bonded so much with them. These are extraordinary people.
Drew Brees and coach Payton are way past the pale as to what we usually think a good person in a community is.
JEFFREY BROWN: Brian, expand — I mean, you know these guys. You think it’s for real; they have really incorporated into the city and taken it on themselves?
BRIAN ALLEE-WALSH: Oh, there is no doubt about it. You know, you can tell someone, when they are not sincere. And to say it interview in, interview out — I can’t tell you how many times that Drew has spoken to me and others in our media group from the off-season until now, and it’s the same message.
And, again, you can — you can read into somebody. And Drew is genuinely sincere when he says that there’s a reason why he’s in New Orleans. There’s a reason why he signed with the Saints back in March of ’06, when he had a chance to go to the Miami Dolphins.
You know, he felt that there was a calling. And, look, I will be the first person to say, ah, let’s kind of look at this. But this guy is the poster boy for recovery in New Orleans, he and his wife. And, again, like Garland said, they are not the only people in this organization. It’s up and down the lineup, where they truly believe that they can make a difference in the community.
And you don’t find that in a lot of sports franchises. We’re very fortunate to have the Saints organization. And, of course, everyone loves a winner. But these folks were doing it, you know, when they weren’t winning the last couple of years.
And I think that speaks to the kind of true characters, character people that they have in the organization.
JEFFREY BROWN: Well, Garland, just in our last minute, you started to talk about this, but this is a moment where the eyes of the nation look back at your city. What should we know? How are things going? What — what is going well? What is still unfulfilled?
GARLAND ROBINETTE: I’m glad you asked me that. I will take a little oblique off the question, but I would like to deliver a message to the country.
We know you have problems out there. A lot of you are unemployed. You are fearful. You don’t know what the future is going to bring. Nobody could have been in a worse position than we. And we have proven to you, we are the litmus test, that, whatever your problems are, it’s just an opportunity. It will come out much better in the long run.
We are there. We are, I think, just about recovered. We still need work, but we are proof that, no matter how bad your situation is, it is going to get better. New Orleans has done it.
The Saints have done it. You are looking at a miracle that is also attainable by you.
JEFFREY BROWN: All right, that’s a good message to end on.
And you have a parade tomorrow, guys. Enjoy it.
Garland Robinette, Brian Allee-Walsh, thank you both very much.