How sports and life intersect …

August 31, 2007 | Chris Pika

Tonight, the Ravens take on the Falcons in the final preseason game for both teams in the Georgia Dome and I will be on hand to blog for WNST.net. Just over two years to the day, normal life was redefined not long after a Ravens game in another city.

On Friday, Aug. 26, 2005, the Ravens made their way to New Orleans to play the Saints in the Louisiana Superdome. At the time, I was the director of new media for the Saints in charge of their web site and an occasional WNST guest who had more than a passing interest in the game and the opponent.

Nestor and his wife, Jen, made the trip to the Crescent City and used my tickets for the game. My wife Kate, who normally didn’t come to preseason games, was convinced to show up and be introduced to the Aparicios as well as other friends from back home who were visiting.

I honestly can’t tell you much about the game itself. The chance to see friends and catch up with what was going on at home brought a smile and a little more excitement than a normal preseason game would generally.

There was another reason the game became memorable later and it was lurking in the Gulf of Mexico.

All during the day, most people in the Gulf Coast were keeping an eye on Hurricane Katrina, which had come through the southernmost part of Florida and at 5 p.m. ET Friday was projected to hit sometime Monday afternoon near the Mississippi-Alabama border. By just before 11 p.m. ET as the game was winding down, most people in the press box were looking at the National Weather Service’s hurricane site and not the action on the field. The potential track had moved to just east of New Orleans.

Now, hurricanes and tropical storms are a way of life for most natives of the area. But, I had more than a few players ask me, “Where is it headed?” as they came off the Superdome field and entered the locker room. I left messages for Nestor and a member of the Ravens staff who was going to stay the weekend — telling them to get out of the city on Saturday as early as possible since this one was a little different and most local folks would not realize the change in the forecast until the next morning. Six hours later, the forecast track shifted again — to right over the city and evacuation plans were activated.

Less than 48 hours after the conclusion of the game with the Ravens, the Superdome went from sports facility to shelter of last resort for thousands of people who did not have the means to get out as the storm approached. No one that Friday night either at the game or partying on Bourbon Street (or both for the Ravens fans who made the trip) could have imagined the destruction and despair that followed.

All of us saw what happened next. The Superdome, the site of six Super Bowls, became a national symbol of the storm as several thousand people waited for rescue under the tattered roof surface and a flooded city. We watched TV constantly and worried for those we had not heard from and wondered what was next. Every Saints staffer who did not go with the team to Oakland for the preseason finale was summoned to San Antonio, where the club relocated for the duration of the season.

I was a frequent guest on WNST during that time to talk about what was going on with the nomad Saints and to give a perspective on the aftermath of the storm for the city and its’ residents and to eventually encourage folks to come to New Orleans for the 2006 game against the Saints iand see all of it for themselves.

My wife and I were fortunate after my departure from the Saints before the start of the 2006 season to be a part of the crowd who witnessed the reopening of the Superdome — now a national symbol of the strength and resilience of the people of New Orleans — for the first event in 13 months since that Ravens-Saints game that seemed a lifetime ago. The celebration outside the facility before the game and the wall of noise inside during the game seemed to be a collective civic catharsis. New Orleans would return — much different that it had ever been, but the spirit remains.

As Nestor said to me not long ago, “That night against the Ravens was maybe the last normal day you’ve had for a long time.” He was certainly right and sports circles around life again with another Ravens visit to my current home area tonight.

After a stint with the Falcons, I am a sports book editor at a local publisher, a frequent “Chicken Box Friday” guest on The Rob Long Show and a part-time blogger/editor on WNST.net. Among the lessons learned by all of us who were displaced by Katrina, either directly or by choice later, is that home is where you make it and it’s the bonds of family and friends that really count regardless of your current address.

Rooting for our favorite teams gives everyone a sense of place, whether it’s the Saints for a family that relocated after Katrina from New Orleans to a Houston apartment or fans in a faraway sports bar who realize that some other folks there are wearing Ravens jerseys and share a couple of cold beers cheering for the “home” team. Life and sports do intersect in the strangest of ways …

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