Ushers take a tour of the the Louisiana Superdome on Saturday, hoping to learn the changes before tonight's game. Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images.
Tonight, the New Orleans Saints return home to the Superdome for the first time since Katrina. And it's not just a source of pride for the team, it;s also become a source of inspiration for the city.
First, there is the dome itself. A year ago, it seemed irreparably damaged. Part of the roof had peeled away leaving the inside water-logged and moldy. Evacuees left behind 4,000 tons of debris and refuse as well as badly damaged seats, concession stands and suites. As for the dome's image? Well, to this day, no one expects, or wants, the world to forget those pictures of human suffering. But tonight, a "new" Superdome debuts to a nationwide audience with an image everyone hopes will be just as memorable.
It took $144 million dollars and 850 workers working nine months to give the dome its badly needed facelift. From top to bottom, it looks wholly different from that dark, windswept structure where thousands huddled during the storm and for days afterward.
Let's start at the top. That mangled roof, all 9.7 acres of it, has been entirely replaced. Inside, there's a new state-of-the-art lighting and sound system. On top of that, there are new scoreboards and video screens, a brighter paint scheme, modernized concession stands, upgraded luxury suites and a fresh paint job on brand new turf. In short, it looks like a brand new dome.
If the dome itself weren't enough to be proud of, the city is walking on air about the Saints. This will be their first home game since Katrina. And this season, unlike many others, fans have something to cheer about. The team comes into tonight's game 2-0. Most NFL teams wouldn't consider that a lot to brag about. But for fans accustomed to so many losing seasons, it's enough to let them dream. On top of that, they're playing their long time rivals, the Atlanta Falcons, who are also undefeated.
And tonight's game has also given the city what no FEMA official, politician or insurance adjuster could hope. Many have said; if the lackluster Saints can come back with a strong start to the season and if the Superdome, with its painful past, can rebuild in record time, perhaps there is hope for this city. The team and the dome have become symbols of what might be possible.
It may not be the Super Bowl, but it could indeed be the most important game of the season, emotionally. Why? Perhaps it's because the game has given everyone something positive to focus on for a change. It's all everyone talks about. Instead of talking about whether they're back in their house, received their insurance check or are thinking about leaving, folks here can finally just talk about something normal -- a football game.
Editor's note: Steve also took his DV cam into the dome ... we'll crunch that video and deliver it to you in this blog shortly. Tonight on 'Nightly,' correspondent Martin Savidge reports on the Saints home opener.