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In sagging Big Easy, Saints lift spirits

The city's football team, which hasn't had a good season in years, heads to the playoffs Saturday.

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When Gary Greiner thinks back 30 years ago or so, he remembers sitting in a pounding rain at the old Tulane Stadium only to watch his hard-knock Saints lose once again during the football season, this time by 66 to 0 to the Eagles.

As he has for 40 mostly miserable seasons, he stayed until the final whistle. Now his reward has come.

In a city bogged down by hurricane recovery and battered by a crime wave in which nine people have died this year, the Saints have chosen a fine time to live up to their name. With a bright rookie head coach and 25 new players, the onetime "Aints," whose fans invented the paper-bag-over-the-head protest are headed to the playoffs, and some speculate, perhaps even to the Superbowl. As the Saints prepare to take on the Philadelphia Eagles at the Superdome Saturday at 8 p.m. EST, New Orleanians, who are used to looking for hope, are now basking in that rarest of commodities: success.

"It's meant to be," Mr. Greiner exclaims. "Everybody's got that feeling."

True to the spirit of the city, the Saints were born of a backroom deal, taking to the field in 1967 and promptly losing the first game to the Los Angeles Rams, 27-13. It became a hard habit to break. They couldn't pull off a .500 season for 20 years, and even the team's official history is peppered with adjectives such as "miserable" and "horrible." Great quarterbacks like Archie Manning had no chance behind a half-hearted offensive line. This is, after all, a fan base that has heard the words "coulda woulda shoulda" come out of one coach's mouth, while another lamented that the team stank after a close loss.

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