Dream season ends for Saints

Published 4:32 pm Thursday, January 25, 2007

The sparse French Quarter crowd was somber — if not sober — following the New Orleans Saints’ loss to the Chicago Bears in the NFC title game.

“It’s like the night of the living dead out here. Zombies,” said Lisa Losito, a server at Swampy’s Louisiana Cookery on Bourbon Street. Business at the restaurant was down from the usual Sunday, she said. “I don’t think the city’s taking it too well.”

The Saints’ dream season came to a heartbreaking end Sunday, abruptly sending fans across the city back to the stark reality of post-Hurricane Katrina New Orleans.

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For weeks, the Saints’ drive to Sunday’s NFC title game served as a welcome relief to a city still struggling to rebuild from the storm. But the Chicago Bears’ 39-14 win on their home field ended hopes that the once-woeful Saints would reach the Super Bowl for the first time in the team’s 40-year history.

For fan Dawn Emery, the game was about more than football.

“The Saints really have become an icon,” Emery said. “The struggle, their coming back from defeat, it represents where we all have come from.”

Finn McCools, an Irish pub in Mid-City that took on six feet of water after Katrina, was filled with rowdy fans — some, standing four and five deep at the bar — even before the game started. By the time the game ended, though, only a few dozen die-hards remained. One of those was Michelle Kelly — perhaps the only Bears’ fan there.

“I’m happy for my team, but I feel bad. The people here are going to be so sad, so sad for months,” Kelly said. “The Saints needed it more than the Bears.”

After the game, Saints coach Sean Payton was thinking about the far-away fans.

“This hurt we have right now as a team and as an organization eventually will go away, but there’s a lot of pain and a lot of things that are disappointing for people back in that city that aren’t going away real quickly,” Payton said.

“There’s a lot that needs to be done, and the only thing that’s disappointing is not playing in next game, which allows a city a couple more weeks of excitment obviously leading up to the Super Bowl.”

In the French Quarter, hot dog vendor James Eovaldi, standing behind stacks of unused buns, said he expected to sell just 50 hot dogs, instead of the usual 500 after a game. “I can’t believe they lost. It’s terrible,” he said. “Very terrible.”

Bartenders in the Quarter weren’t seeing their business particularly affected.

“Fans of both teams are in town. Some celebrate, some sulk,” said Megan Clark, barkeeper at the Maison Bourbon jazz club. “Alcohol goes well with both.”

Outside another, louder, bar, Monica Everage said she and her friends were taking the loss hard. “They can’t really express how they feel, because they’re under the influence of alcohol to keep up their spirits,” she said.

While fans were disappointed with the loss, most said they were still proud of the Saints, who had come from a 3-13 season last year to end this season in the NFC title game — uncharted territory for New Orleans.

“If you’re from here and are a Saints fan, Sunday dictated how a week went,” said Ben Tarantino, who was hanging around Finn McCools after the game. On Monday, he said, “It’ll be all right. It’ll be another day. And we’ll look forward to the draft in April.”