Beleaguered Saints win one for the hurricane embattled fans

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Saints coach Jim Haslett read a letter to his players from New Orleans Mayor C. Ray Nagin the night before they were set to play the Carolina Panthers.

Haslett relayed what Nagin saw: dead babies, torn-apart families, a city in ruins following Hurricane Katrina. Yes, the Saints would do everything in their power to win the season opener, to provide a glimmer of hope to all those who lost so much.

They delivered, in thrilling fashion. John Carney kicked a 47-yard field goal with 3 seconds left, giving the Saints a 23-20 win over the Panthers on Sunday.

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''He talked about the things he had seen, babies dying,'' receiver Joe Horn said. ''You would only see it in a horror story. People were crying on his shoulder, saying they don't know where their son is, where the daughter is.

''I can't speak enough about how our heart goes out to them. The letter had an impact. We respect and acknowledge what everyone has gone through.''

In New Orleans, a dozen weary police officers, on duty since before the hurricane hit, clustered around a police car to listen to the game.

''Man, this is what we needed,'' said James Porter, a patrol officer. ''This almost makes you feel normal again.''

At a small bar on Bourbon Street, where a Saints football helmet was painted on the ceiling, Steve Bartley was among several French Quarter residents listening to the Saints game on a battery-powered radio.

''On Sundays, I'm usually at a bar watching the Saints. It would be nice if we could see them, but this is the best we could do,'' he said.

They listened as Deuce McAllister ran for two touchdowns, and Aaron Brooks put the team in position for the game-winner with passes of 11 and 25 yards to Horn. After Carney made his kick, the Saints rushed out on the field to celebrate, their first joy since Katrina tore through New Orleans on Aug. 29.

Like the thousands of evacuees, the storm left them homeless and searching for a little bit of normalcy.

They found it on the field, scoring an important victory over an NFC South rival and an emotional win for their fans.

''In the back of our minds, we know we have to give them one tiny bit of hope,'' Brooks said. ''We have complete faith in what we are doing because every time we go out there, it is our job to give them hope that every day will be a better day.''

Elsewhere, it was Dallas 28, San Diego 24; Indianapolis 24, Baltimore 7; San Francisco 28, St. Louis 25; Pittsburgh 34, Tennessee 7; Miami 34, Denver 10; Tampa Bay 24, Minnesota 13; Detroit 17, Green Bay 3; Kansas City 27, New York Jets 7; New York Giants 42, Arizona 19; Jacksonville 26, Seattle 14; Cincinnati 27, Cleveland 13; Buffalo 22, Houston 7; and Washington 9, Chicago 7.

The Monday night game has Philadelphia at Atlanta in a rematch of the 2004 NFC title game.