The New Orleans Saints comfortably beat the Atlanta Falcons 23-3 on Sunday in an atmosphere more reminiscent of the Superbowl than a regular week three NFL fixture.
The 68,000 capacity audience were treated to performances by U2 and Green Day and appearances from luminaries including the film director, Spike Lee and the former US president, George Bush.
The roaring crowd was a far cry from the 30,000 people who had come to the Superdome a year before because they were unable to evacuate as Katrina approached.
The stadium was damaged by the storm and the unsanitary conditions provided a poor refuge as it became a symbol of an emergency response that was unable to protect the city or rescue its poorest residents.
1,400 people were killed in the floods and less than half of New Orlean’s 450,000 pre-Katrina residents have returned.
Crowds swamped the area around the Superdome prior to kickoff in a human sea, creating a huge traffic jam for the team’s emotional return.
“This is exactly what the city needs,” said Saints season ticket holder Clara Donate, 58, who lost her home and all her possessions to Katrina’s floodwaters. “We all need something else to think about.”
George Bush was among a cast
But some were in no mood to celebrate the team’s return, saying the $185 million dollars spent on refurbishing the Superdome could have been better spent on helping those still struggling to rebuild their lives after Katrina.
Irma Warner, 71, and her husband, Pascal Warner, 80, live in an apartment in suburban Metairie while working six days a week to restore a home flooded by 7 feet (2.1 meters) of water in New Orleans’ Lakeview neighborhood.
“We rode around through the Ninth Ward yesterday,” Irma Warner said.
“When I saw that, I thought, how can they spend $185 million on the Superdome. What about all these poor people?”
After the storm, the Saints became the NFL’s travelling show, establishing a base in San Antonio and playing every game on the road amid speculation that owner Tom Benson might not bring them back to New Orleans.
Sunday’s match was their first at home in the NFL since the 2004 season.
John Carney kicked three field goals and the Saints defence Falcons’ Michael Vick on the run all night, holding the All-Pro quarterback to just 12 completions in 31 attempts for just 137 yards.
The win over the Falcons gives the Saints the sole lead in the NFC South and improved their record to a promising 3-0 so far this season.