MIAMI | Bobby Hebert figured he had a better chance of being forced to wear a paper bag on his head than a dress on his shoulders.
So one time on the air the former Saints quarterback and current radio personality on WWL-AM radio in New Orleans promised to wear a dress if his former team ever reached the Super Bowl. Hebert made good on his bet last week, donning a custom-made gold gown and a pig-tailed wig in a pre-Super Bowl parade in New Orleans' French Quarter.
After New Orleans defeated the Vikings 31-28 in overtime in the NFC championship game, the city went crazy. The paper bags that fans wore to hide the shame of being in attendance during the 21 consecutive non-winning seasons that marred the franchise's futile beginning are gone. Black and gold paint and the fleur-de-lis are the new facial wear of choice.
People are proud to be fans, with the Saints ready to play the Colts on Sunday in Super Bowl XLIV here in Sun Life Stadium. Parades are no longer limited to Mardi Gras.
Hebert, who quarterbacked the 1987 Saints squad that broke the 21-season streak of futility, said the city's elation level is nothing like it was in the late 1980s and early 1990s when the team finally strung together multiple winning seasons.
"It's a different level (now)," Hebert said. "I've played professionally in Michigan, California, Georgia and with the Saints, and as a player you play for your team and it's more like a job. You play for yourself kind of like a mercenary. With the Saints, you play for a community. You play for a whole region."
That sentiment was never truer than in 2006. The city had been ravaged by Hurricane Katrina in August 2005, and the franchise had been relegated to playing home games at LSU in Baton Rouge, La., and the Alamodome in San Antonio while the wind-damaged Superdome was housing refugees of the deadly city-wide flooding.
If the team's winning run started by Hebert's 1987 team didn't dismiss the "Aints" nickname, the signing of Drew Brees as quarterback and Sean Payton as head coach following the 3-13 season in 2005 ultimately rejuvenated the team and made "Aints" outdated.
Both altruistic men took huge risks in the reclamation project for the franchise and generously supported relief efforts in the city, knowing the area needed something around which to rally. On Sept. 26, the coaches and players became patron saints for the city, defeating the Atlanta Falcons 23-3 in the first post-Katrina game at the sold-out Superdome.
"What it symbolized not only for our community but for our country -- that we are resilient -- that experience is one that will live in my head forever," Brees said.
Former Colts and Rams star Marshall Faulk was in attendance at that game, which was part of a 10-6 season that ended with an NFC title game loss to the Bears, proud that his hometown team was back on an ascent.
"They do a great job in the community of giving back, and in that city of New Orleans there's a lot of room to give back," Faulk said of the team. "They continue to do well on and off the field."
Even Colts players from New Orleans can't help but feel for the franchise.
Wideout Reggie Wayne, a New Orleans native, has a tattoo of the city's skyline on his right forearm. The sketch, which Wayne got after Hurricane Katrina, includes the Superdome and the Crescent City Connection bridge.
"Whenever I'm not in the Super Bowl, it doesn't really matter -- I do want them to win," Wayne said. "I probably would go for the Saints. I feel like they really deserve it, I really do."
Super Bowl XLIV
Colts (16-2) vs. Saints (15-3)
Where: Sun Life Stadium, Miami.
When: 5:25 p.m. Sunday.
TV/Radio: CBS (Ch. 2); WSCR-AM (670), WEFM-FM (95.9).
From Aints to Saints
Total 279-377-5 * -- made playoffs (4-6 all-time in playoffs)