On Monday night, the New Orleans Saints go marching back into the Superdome for a football game that many thought would never happen.
In the days immediately after Hurricane Katrina, the last thing the people of New Orleans could picture was their football team running out of the locker room and onto the field of the Superdome.
The wind from the storm ripped off part of the roof that is a staple of the city's skyline. Water leaked into the stadium and damaged the field, the seats and the concourses.
And of course, there were the images from inside the Superdome, where people arrived to ride out the storm and were stranded as the levees broke and the city flooded around them. The chaotic scenes of evacuees at the Superdome played around the world, causing the facility that hosted six Super Bowls and numerous major sports events to symbolize to critics the failure of government at all levels.
But now, after 13 months and $185 million, the Superdome is ready to welcome back the Saints and their loyal, diehard fans for the first time since Hurricane Katrina.
Two undefeated teams and the spotlight of Monday Night Football -- that alone may be enough to give a city a reason to party. But the Saints' home opener may also give the team's loyal fans a chance to forget those terrible images from last year and the ongoing challenges the city faces as it rebuilds from Katrina.
"The fact that it's in New Orleans is big; the fact that it's in the Superdome is mind-blowing," said Chris Rose, a columnist for New Orleans' Times Picayune newspaper. "It really is, when you think about the last time the public had a glimpse inside of that building and what happened there."
"They can sit in those seats," said Saints wide receiver Joe Horn, "and say 'You know what? Okay, the city needs $200 million. We need some money for something else. But for four hours, I can sit with my kids and I can enjoy my football team.' "
"It means so much because the whole community needs a pick-me-up," said Metairie resident Sue Schwab, after purchasing nearly $250 worth of Saints t-shirts for her family to wear to the game on Monday night. "And the Saints are going to do that for us."
The game will be a star-studded affair with media from around the world descending on the Big Easy. The Goo Goo Dolls, Green Day and U2 will perform before the game, and local singers Irma Thomas and Allen Toussaint will sing the national anthem. Events have been occurring around the city for the last several days, including a charity event tonight hosted by quarterback Drew Brees and running back Duece McAllister called "Cocktails for Katrina."
But to the people of New Orleans, the game and the re-opening of the Dome is more than just a party and three-hour distraction from everyday worries. People around town -- cab drivers, waiters in the French Quarter, the folks at the rental car counter -- all said this is the first real sign of the recovery and rebirth of New Orleans, and that despite all the government red tape, things can get done here.
Joe Horn said that the quick repair of the Superdome should give people a sense of hope that the rest of the city can bounce back.
"If you can rebuild a place that's 1.9 million square feet," Horn said, "you should be able to come back here and rebuild a 3,000-square foot house."