<
>

It's back to reality for heartbroken Saints fans

NEW ORLEANS -- The Saints' inspirational season ended
Sunday, sending fans back to the stark reality of post-Katrina New
Orleans.

"It was a heartbreaker, you know?" said fan Hampton Barclay.

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

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

Reminders of Katrina are everywhere.

At Finn McCools, an Irish pub packed with fans for Sunday's NFC
Championship Game, it's the Federal Emergency Management Agency
trailer next door, the houses still bearing the graffiti of search
and rescue teams and the piles of sopping-wet trash along the
avenue.

Sunday, the patrons of the pub, which took on 6 feet of water
after Katrina, focused on cheering the Saints and dreaming of a
Super Bowl berth. But when the 39-14 loss to the Chicago Bears
became official, just a few still lingered.

One 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."

For weeks, the Saints' improbable season served as a welcome
relief to the constant struggles of rebuilding.

"I'm happy to be here watching. It's good for the city and the
whole Gulf Coast just for them to get this far," said Randy
McDonald, a Baton Rouge restaurant owner who stayed until the end
at Pat O'Brien's bar in the French Quarter.

At Good Friends, another French Quarter pub, Steve Harrington
cried about the loss.

"I wish they had won," Harrington said. "But I'm very
satisfied and proud of this team."

After finishing 3-13 last season, the Saints exceeded
expectations, and fans are hopeful it will lead to long-term
success.

But Johnny Hayden, a 14-year-old tap dancer who's one of the
many street performers who works the French Quarter, was focused on
the here and now.

Like the Saints, Hayden didn't have a good day.

On a typical football day, he makes $100 in tips from
passers-by, but Sunday, Hayden said he hadn't made a penny
"because the Saints are losing."