The Saints will take on NFC South rivals the Atlanta Falcons on Monday night in front of a sell-out crowd of more than 68,000 fans in the first football match at the dome for over a year.
The Superdome temporarily housed 30,000 of the New Orleans’ poorest citizens during their wait for evacuation from the hurricane ravaged city amidst dire scenes of overcrowding, over flowing sewerage and over 4,000 tons of rubbish and debris piling up in the week after the storm.
Seventy percent of the roof was destroyed in the hurricane with almost everything in the building needing to be replaced due to water damage, including the turf and the main scoreboard, with over 14 million liters of water pumped out of the stadium and its car parks.
“We know that the Superdome was symbolic of a lot of misery,” Governor Kathleen Blanco said.
“It’s now a symbol of our recovery. It stands as a symbol of all of our experiences over the past year.”
The Superdome in the aftermath
Many felt that the Superdome should be demolished after the destruction of Hurricane Katrina, however a $600 million rebuilding quote swayed officials to put in place a three-phase, $185 million restoration project for the 31-year-old building.
Saints fans and New Orleans residents alike have responded to the re-opening of the stadium by selling out the entire Saints season for the first time in the franchise’s 39-year history.
The reconstruction of the multi-purpose Superdome, which rises to 27 stories high at its roof’s apex, is seen as symbolic in raising the hopes and spirits of local residents as they rebuild their homes and lives.
“We’re back and I’m very happy about it,” Saints wide receiver Joe Horn said.
“I’m mostly happy for the fans that went through Katrina, the ones that suffered and had a lot of losses.”
The American national anthem before the match on Monday night will be sung by local artists Irma Thomas and Allen Toussaint, with Kermit Ruffins on trumpet, and the coin toss will be handled by former President George H.W. Bush.
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Pre-match entertainment will include performances from The Goo Goo Dolls, Green Day and U2, while the Southern University marching band will provide the halftime show.
“It’s extremely significant,” said Atlanta coach Jim Mora, whose father Jim coached the Saints between 1986 and 1996.
“We all understand and we all have compassion for what the people of New Orleans have gone through and are still going through.
“I think it’s a grand event. You hope that it gives the city a little spurt. It gives them another kicker to keep rebuilding.”
During the redevelopment of the Superdome 700 people worked inside the structure with another 120 on the roof, seeing new seating, floor coverings, electronic scoreboards and playing surface go into the stadium.
“It’s going to exciting to be back in the dome and be back in New Orleans, but I just felt like there are going to be so many memories, not just for myself, but the city of New Orleans, the Saints players,” said Falcons running back Warwick Dunn, who leads the league with 266 rushing yards.
“When you walk into the dome, you think of all the things that happened there during the hurricane. It’s going to be emotional.
“I just think the NFL is trying to help New Orleans. This is the rebirth, the city is back open. We want the people to come back and enjoy New Orleans,” Dunn added.
“I think the NFL is trying to do their part and as the players, we have to do ours and put on a show and give them something to root for.”