Scott Fujita, 30, the Saints’ linebacker, joined the team after Hurricane Katrina so that he could help rebuild the city, and was recently named the Saints’ Man of the Year for his good work. Yesterday he told The Times what the Super Bowl victory meant for him and for New Orleans.
The Saints were on a mission on Sunday and, despite all the naysayers, there was no way we were going to lose the game. It was much bigger than football. It was a victory for the whole city of New Orleans and for a region ravaged by such a huge natural disaster.
When my wife Jaclyn and I visited New Orleans in 2006 we knew that we had to be there and be part of the rebuilding process — something potentially much bigger than football.
It was a leap of faith and everyone thought we were crazy but it was the best decision of our lives and this is the pinnacle. It is the culmination of everything that we have done over the past four years — the team and the city together.
After the game the fans were all coming up and saying not “congratulations” but “thank you”. The leadership in New Orleans has not been that great since Katrina. But the Saints got their act together early and we feel we brought hope to the city.
Some people say that it must be a burden to have so many dreams resting on our shoulders but we have relished the opportunity and feel honoured to represent the people of New Orleans. It has made everything more meaningful.
There is still much to do. There are still so many people who have nothing, or who would like to come back to the city but can’t. People are still looking to us.
But Sunday’s victory shows the world that New Orleans is back. It should help the economy of a city that depends so heavily on tourism and conventions. A couple of years ago New Orleans was America’s murder capital but the crime rate has plummeted this season because everyone is so happy. There has not been a single homicide on game days.
My wife and I have already decided to give away half of my Super Bowl cheque of $82,000 (£52,400). Some will go to a coastal wetlands restoration project to help to protect New Orleans from storms. The rest will go to Haiti, which is even worse off than New Orleans was after Katrina.
The story of how the Saints rebuilt themselves and helped to rebuild New Orleans has resonated far beyond the state of Louisiana. Since 2006 we were America’s adopted team. After playing at Wembley in 2007 we were Britain’s adopted team. Since Sunday we’re the world’s adopted team.
It was when my wife walked on to the field that I really broke down. Every day she thanks me for bringing her to New Orleans. It’s where our life really took off.