It's back to reality for heartbroken Saints fans

Updated: January 21, 2007, 8:01 PM ET
Associated Press

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.

AP Photo/Bill HaberFans gather in front of a New Orleans bar to watch their beloved Saints fall short in Sunday's NFC Championship Game.
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."

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press