Despite Super Bowl win, New Orleans still not 'back'

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Wednesday, February 10, 2010
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It’s quite the claim that many in sports media and even the Saints organization make.

New Orleans is back.

You know, New Orleans — the actual city, and Louisiana, the state — which were decimated by a historically malevolent natural disaster and neglected by a historically incompetent federal government.

Louisiana, where nearly 1,500 lives were lost, and hundreds of thousands left displaced and jobless.

Is New Orleans, the city, back if Brett Favre doesn’t provide his annual choke-job?

Is it back because Sean Payton made a “gutsy,” or even heroic, onside kick call?

Is it permanently back, or is it not back anymore when the headline writers and sports bloggers get sick of talking about its “back-ness?”

“New Orleans is back” is a claim hard to back up.

Mind you, there’s never been a more worthy recipient of the “America’s Team” moniker, passed through NFL cities like the Olympic torch over the last few decades.

“Who Dat” Nation’s stunning proliferation was seen by a record 107 million television viewers — the vast majority participating, at least vicariously, in the city’s premature and soon to be insurmountably epic Mardi Gras.

Sports and civic pride — no one would argue that any other place in the country was more deserving of such a wonderful distraction.

I’ve never been to New Orleans, and have no personal reference point to gauge its rebuilding progress.

Here’s what I have gathered after some online research.

Just over a year ago, the population of New Orleans was 100,000 less than it was pre- Katrina.

According to a recent edition of the Bloomberg BusinessWeek, “Rebuilding from Katrina has stalled as the severest recession since World War II drove up unemployment the most since the storm that struck in 2005.”

The city and state were recently awarded federal grants for blight fighting, and Obama’s 2011 proposed budget has nearly $40 million allocated for badly-needed coastal restoration projects, apparently a tenth of what the state requested.

That’s sort of good news, but that’s not “back.”

“It puts sports into perspective” is an old jock’s line.

Haven’t heard it much.

Perhaps, some may say, we aren’t supposed to take “New Orleans is back” so literally — that it’s simply a euphemism for a great moment for the city.

It seems hard to conflate the two. And it’s insensitive to what must continue to be an arduous, painful and excruciatingly long process. If and when the incremental steps are completed, it’s not likely that saying “New Orleans is back” will have the same pizzazz.

Many Saints players have helped, in relatively small ways, in rebuilding efforts. Some even donated portions of their Super Bowl checks.

Props.

New Orleans, the birthplace of jazz, may enjoy the bandwagon jumpers now.

But in the words of Nat King Cole, “The party’s over/It’s time to call it a day/They’ve burst your pretty balloon/And taken the moon away/It’s time to wind up the masquerade/Just make your mind up/The piper must be paid.”

It was all just a charade.

Reach the reporter at nruland@asu.edu