New Orleans: From Katrina to Super Bowl 44

The Saints' historic Super Bowl run inspires a city scarred by Katrina.

February 4, 2010, 7:06 PM

Feb. 5, 2010 — -- The Saints' trip to the Super Bowl isn't just a source of city pride for New Orleans. It's a personal victory for its residents.

Nearly five years after New Orleans was slammed by Hurricane Katrina, residents and natives alike hope for a win for the Saints at the NFL's top event, saying it would mean much more than a year's worth of bragging rights.

"We're coming back," fan Kate Friedler said, "and it's kind of proving to everybody that, you know, New Orleans is being rebuilt."

"I feel so important and so special," another fan said. "We have finally arrived."

The city has continued to struggle since Katrina, the worst natural disaster in its history, destroyed 70,000 homes and displaced many more. But the Saints' victory in the playoffs has been one of the biggest bright spots for the city in years.

Dave Walker of the New Orleans Times Picayune said some city residents even took newspapers with news of the Saints' going to the Super Bowl to the cemeteries to share with their deceased loved ones.

"A lot of people were still in touch with the souls of the departed people who they learned to be Saints fans from, their dad or mom or grandpa," he said.

One person caught in the middle of all this revelry -- and rivalry -- is star Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning, who was born in New Orleans and was heavily involved in relief efforts after Katrina. Some have questioned whether his head will be with the Colts Sunday and his heart with New Orleans.

But Mike Greenberg and Mike Golic, hosts of ESPN's "Mike and Mike in the Morning," said they are confident Manning will leave his heart out of it and play for a win for the Colts.

"It's laughable to think that there would be any kind of thing in his heart that says if New Orleans gets it, then it would be fine," Golic told "Good Morning America" today. "He will go in and he will try to carve up the Saints on Super Bowl Sunday."

Although the Saints may wipe the floor with Colts in terms of team spirit, Greenberg and Golic predicted the Saints won't have enough to beat their rivals Sunday.

"I think it's going to be very difficult for them," Golic said. "In the end, I think Peyton may be a little much for them."

Making it to the Super Bowl alone could be considered a victory for a franchise that was considered at one point among the worst in the NFL, even earning the nickname the "Aints."

But Tom Dempsey, the former Saints player who kicked the famous 63-year field goal in 1970, said the fans were there even during the dark days.

"We weren't a great football team," he said. "The love affair between the Saints and the fans started way back then before the 'Who Dat' nation."

'Who Dat' and the 31-Year-Old Bet

While this year's run at the Super Bowl has special meaning, New Orleans has had an intense team spirit that was around long before Katrina and has only grown stronger since in a land known as "Who Dat" Nation.

The chant "Who dat say they gonna beat dem saints? Who dat? Who dat?" started with the Saints players and diehard fans and has morphed into a movement all its own.

The phrase "who dat" was first coined more than a 100 years ago with roots firmly lodged in the community's multicultural society.

"It started in minstrel shows at the beginning of the 20th century," one Tulane University historian said. "They were the precursors to blues and jazz and years later was picked up by sports fans as a way to cheer on fans in the later part of the century."

New Orleans' favorite son Aaron Neville popularized the chant in 1983 with players, and it soon became a fan favorite.

But years before the chant was popularized, one fan never failed to show her support with beer and a fateful bet.

Up the coast in Biloxi, Miss., Peggy Byrd and Chevis Swetman have been co-workers at the Peoples Bank for nearly 40 years. Every Friday and every Monday they talked football. Byrd a diehard Saints fan.

The two had a weekly bet for a six-pack of beer.

"Every season I would always bet against the Saints, and I'd always win," Swetman told "Good Morning America."

But after about eight years of losing, Byrd decided to up the stakes.

She challenged him that if the Saints ever go to the Super Bowl, he'd have to send her to watch her team run out on the field. The bet was made, written down and notorized. The year was 1979, when "The Dukes of Hazzard" was a hot new television show.

For 31 years, the "contract" -- as Byrd calls it -- sat in the bank's vault and waited for a year like this year.

Even though both had lost their homes and belongings when Katrina hit, Swetman kept his word and paid for Byrd's airfare, hotel and ticket. He even gave her spending money.

"I wish I'd never signed it," Swetman said, laughing.

Byrd left Thursday for the big game and is in Miami preparing to fulfill a wish that has been more than three decades in the making.

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