Saints Praying, and Playing, for the Super Bowl

For the past 38 years, 77-year-old Jerry Romig has been the voice of the New Orleans Saints -- but even he says there's never been a season like this one.

Like many Saints fans, he's hoping that a win Sunday in Chicago over the Bears will lead to the team's first Super Bowl. But for Romig and his fellow New Orleanians, the game is about more than winning or losing.

Seventeen months after Katrina tore the city to pieces, the miracle some New Orleanians have hoped for has arrived -- in the form of the Saints.

Saints' Storybook Season

Like many New Orleanians, the Saints lost their home when Katrina hit. The Superdome was not fit for football last season, forcing the team to roam from stadium to stadium. Like many of their fans, the Saints were searching for a place to call home.

This year, the Saints returned to the Superdome in a dramatic Monday Night Football game, beating the Atlanta Falcons and making a statement.

The rest of the season has been just as memorable. The team that was just 3-13 last season is now 11-6, playing for the Super Bowl, and is the talk of the town.

The Romigs are like many Saints families, dedicated fans spanning many generations. Romig's daughter, Mary Beth, is the director of public relations and communications for the New Orleans Convention and Visitor's Bureau. Like her father, Mary Beth has been a lifelong Saints fan. She says the Saints' turnaround season is symbolic of the revitalization of New Orleans.

"We're picking ourselves up by the bootstraps, we're resilient, and the team is a great metaphor for what the city is going though," she said. "What this is doing is lifting people's spirits. It makes dealing with the day-to-day process of recovery easier."

Bears Fans Not on 'America's Team'

So this season, the little team could became "America's team." The "Who Dat Nation," as Saints fans call themselves, are hoping that support from across the country will give their team the emotional boost they need to win in Bears country Sunday.

"My hope is that tomorrow the team will somehow be infused with all of the support from coast to coast, giving them an emotional boost," Mary Beth Romig said.

But Chicago fans aren't jumping on the Saints' bandwagon just yet. The Bears haven't won a Super Bowl since 1985, and 21 years is a long time to wait.

Michael Gorman, a native Chicagoan, has been a Bears fan for 35 years. He's getting ready for tomorrow's game as a bartender at the Miller's Pub & Restaurant near Soldier Field, where the game will be played.

"We're very conscious that New Orleans is the emotional favorite -- but this is Chicago, and emotions don't come into play here." he said.

Gregg Weinstein, a fellow Bears fan and general manager of Kincade's bar in the heart of Chicago, agrees.

"It's a feel-good story if New Orleans wins -- I mean everybody likes them -- but it's a football game is what it comes down to," he said. "We want to win. They've had a great turnaround season, but we want to win."

If the Bears don't win, will Bears fans root for the Saints in the Super Bowl?

"Absolutely," added Weinstein.

Bigger Than Mardi Gras

Win or lose, fans say the Saints merely making it this far in the season is enough.

"For the Saints to come through this year after Katrina, it has just been a remarkable opportunity for the city to have something we can be happy about and cheer about," Jerry Romig said. "Just making it to Miami [site of the Super Bowl] would be icing on the cake."

His daughter said it would be a dream.

"Already, Mardi Gras is going to be crazy this year IF -- I say that in capital letters -- IF we win," she said. "I just can't imagine. I can't let myself imagine."

A trip to the Super Bowl or not, this Saints season has given the city a smile and hope just when it needed it most.

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