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David Gergen | BIO
CNN Senior Political Analyst
The country took a well-deserved time-out last night from bleak news about jobs, deficits, health care, Iran and the like. Even if you were pulling for Peyton Manning and the Colts, you had to agree that the epic upset victory by the New Orleans Saints was the best feel-good moment for the country in more than a year.
Drew Brees and the Saints did more than deliver a storybook ending to a storybook year. They made New Orleans a fresh symbol of the American spirit – what we can do as a people when we have our backs to the wall and join together in search of a comeback.
As almost everyone knows by now, Drew Brees is himself a story of overcoming the odds. Even though he was a high school star, most colleges weren’t interested in him as a player because he was so short – six feet in cleats, far below today’s stereotype. By grit and determination, he made it into the pros but four years ago, diving on a fumble, injured his shoulder so badly that no one wanted him except for the Saints, a team with such a sorry record that it was often nicknamed the “Aints” back home.
Brees bonded with the team and became a fierce believer in New Orleans, especially after Katrina. He and his teammates have long made a Super Bowl victory – their first ever – a goal that would show both they and their city are champions.
They certainly proved that last night, beating not only one of the best quarterbacks ever in Manning but proving they were a complete team with a gutsy coach.
This moment brings renewed national attention to a city that is now showing major sparks of life. Certainly the poverty and corruption have not disappeared; the poor neighborhoods still look devastated. But scores of young Americans have swept into the city to lend helping hands, rebuilding house by house, block by block. The spirit of volunteerism is powerful. So, too, is the spirit of school reform: the flowering of charter schools and the coming of Paul Vallas as School Superintendent have both been major steps forward. And just in the past few days, the voters of New Orleans – white and black together – have elected a superb new mayor, Mitch Landrieu. Those who have known him as lieutenant governor of the state recognize that he is a strong, inspirational leader who has the potential to become the best mayor in decades.
New Orleans is not back yet, and the crown may not sit long on the temple of the Saints - one can already see Peyton Manning plotting out next year.
But isn’t this a moment to savor? Isn’t this a time to remind ourselves that if New Orleans and the Saints can rally together to get up off their backs and stand tall, so can America itself?
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