NEW ORLEANS Four and a half years after Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans, Scott Shanle doesn't think anyone is belaboring the point in talking about the storm.

He knows, as much as anybody, that it's still a large part of life in this city.

'It's something we still talk about,' said Shanle, a linebacker for the Saints. 'A disaster like that, it affected a lot of people. It changed the city after that happened. A lot of times, the Saints are what people look to every weekend. It's their getaway. They root for the Saints. And we're happy we can give them good football every weekend.'

Sunday night in the Superdome, Shanle and his teammates gave them more than good football.

They gave the city of New Orleans, the 71,276 fans in the Superdome, the thousands in bars across the city and the thousands who don't live here anymore something more special.

They gave the Who Dat Nation an NFC championship and the franchise's and city's first-ever Super Bowl berth.

But don't be fooled.

This is much bigger than football now. It has been since it became apparent something special was happening with this team earlier in the season.

Katrina made it so.

Opening the Superdome a year after Katrina was a special feeling and getting the win against Atlanta was just the icing on top of an emotional period.

But Sunday's win was so much more. It's why the press box shook every time the Saints kicked the ball off.

Like they have all season, the Saints fought back from adversity. They did it much like the city has fought back from the days the floodwaters finally receded.

'I don't think there's a team that's more connected to the city they play in than the New Orleans Saints,' Saints offensive tackle Jon Stinchcomb said. 'Since Katrina, we've rebuilt this organization as this city has rebuilt itself. From the team's perspective, the city embraces us and I hope they understand how much we try to play for them and give back to them too.'

Time and again Sunday, the Vikings made those who care for the Saints worry, getting inside the red zone six times. As the game was ending, the Vikings worked their way into prime position to kick a game-winning field goal.

But as has been the case for much of the season, the Saints came through when they needed to. Tracy Porter intercepted Brett Favre, sending the game into overtime, where the Saints sealed it with gutsy play-calling and a big-time kick.

Sound familiar?

Time and again, the city has been dealt blows, be it delayed recovery money, bureaucratic red tape or you name it.

But every obstacle thrown New Orleans' way, she and her citizens seem to find a way to overcome it.

And the truth is, neither could do it without each other. The Saints don't make it if the city isn't here and the city doesn't make it if the Saints don't give it something to take its mind off of troubles.

'I think you can draw so many parallels between our team and city, but in reality, we kind of leaned on each other in order to survive and in order to get to where we are now,' quarterback Drew Brees said. 'They city is on its way to recovery and in a lot of ways, it's back better than ever.

'We've used the strength and resiliency of our fans to go out and play every Sunday and play with the confidence that we can do it, that we can achieve everything we've set out to achieve and it has been one step at a time. It hasn't always been easy and we've had to fight through plenty of adversity just like this city has.

'But when I look at what this year has meant thus far to this community, not only the regular season but to be able to host two playoff games and what it did for this economy and what it did for the spirit of this city and these people it's special. It's unbelievable.'

He's right. It truly is unbelievable.

And there's a possibility it becomes even more so.

After all, there's still one game left.

Super Bowl 44.

Few likely ever thought that was possible four and a half years ago. Now we know anything is possible.

This team and this city and its people have made that so.

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