Onside kicks, fourth downs and committee meetings after every scrum: who can really follow the spectacle that Americans call football? But as with all great games, its lessons can transcend the playing field. Far more than a trophy was at stake for the New Orleans Saints at the Super Bowl on Sunday. By defeating the heavily favoured Indianapolis Colts to win their first NFL title, the team helped to restore the spirit of their wounded city.
Contrast the celebration on Bourbon Street early yesterday morning with what the world saw in 2005. Residents of New Orleans stranded on their roof-tops, waiting days to be rescued, were the lucky ones. Hurricane Katrina killed close to 2,000 people in Louisiana. The Saints' home field became a refuge of last resort, but even there fights broke out over rations and several people died. It was an open question whether New Orleans, and its unique blend of French, Spanish and down-home American influences, would ever come back to life.
Today will be a Mardi Gras unlike any other. As the Super Bowl champions celebrate with their city, that old spiritual, When the Saints Go Marching In, will have an added resonance. The dirge New Orleans had been singing for several years will now sound a little more like a redemption song.