City's Best: New Orleans' Top Five Athletes
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Two years ago, this list would've been impossible. With all due respect to the NOOCH, New Orleans is and always will belong to the Saints, despite the bad times. So though Saints fans have always been fiercely loyal, we'd be making a list including Aaron Brooks and John Carney. Not very sexy.
But after the hurricane, New Orleans athletes have knocked down the barrier between them and fans, forging more personal connections with the locals. The Hornets are still ... well, let's just say "blah," but the Saints are the apple of the city's eye, and finally earn it. A few months ago, LSU could have placed JaMarcus Russell or LaRon Landry, but both have started their NFL careers in other cities. As such, this list reflects the black-and-gold love buzzing around the city this year.
5. Marques Colston: At this time last year, the few who expected Colston to make the Saints final roster were wondering whether that'd be as a receiver or tight end. After an incredible rookie year (with a snub for Rookie of the Year, if you ask me) and on the brink of his first season as The Man, the city is expecting big things from Hofstra's finest.
4. Chris Paul: There hasn't been a lot of excitement from the Hornets lately (though nothing says "thrills" like the term "New Orleans/Oklahoma City"), but Paul, the 2006 Rookie of the Year, is dy-no-mite. His rookie year also garnered him the prestigious (read: worthless) ESPY for Best Breakthrough Athlete. In his second season, Paul upped his scoring and assist averages while cutting down on turnovers. If the Hornets ever decide they wanna sniff .500 again, they've got a great player to build around.
3. Reggie Bush: Even the Lions had Barry Sanders, but the Saints' only claims to legitimate NFL greatness come in the dull form of a left tackle (Willie Roaf) and a kicker (shout out to Morten Anderson!). Enter Bush and his Hall of Fame potential. He's New Orleans' first super-celebrity professional athlete. His many charitable contributions have endeared him to the city as much as his play has. His high profile keeps national attention on the continuing recovery efforts. And if it means we get some at-the-game shots of Kim Kardashian in the Superdome this year, all the better.
2. Deuce McAllister: There's no need to ask whether they're saying "booo" or "Deeuuuuuccee" when the Saints are at home, as nobody would dare think about besmirching the lovable Dulymus. Now, after the Saints' turnaround, McAllister is beloved for sticking with the team through some bad years (not just relegated to the field, either -- in 2001, teammate Albert Connell got caught stealing $4,000 from his locker). His rugged style of running juxtaposes with his reputation as a ridiculously great person off the field. He's known for his approachability and his altruistic acts. And he's a local (Mississipi) product, which gave him empathy points in the wake of Katrina.
1. Drew Brees: It doesn't matter if Miami was afraid of his hurt shoulder, if Brees really preferred the Saints all along, or if they just threw the most money at him. The bottom line is that the Saints got everything you could want in a quarterback, and in the wake of strip club shootings and dog-fighting allegations, a guy who's all-around awesomeness is so great even an award named "Man of the Year" (which Brees co-won last year) doesn't seem enough. From Day One, Brees changed the culture of losing in New Orleans and carried that positive energy into his contributions in the recovery effort. He made Saints fans believe that the team could be a winner. He made the city believe it could be a winner. And then he delivered. Say what you want about Colston, Bush, and McAllister, but if Brees signs with Miami, the Saints are screwed. It's only been one season, but his impact on New Orleans as a whole has been so incredible that it's hard to remember life before he arrived.
6. Sean Payton: Not an athlete, per se, but that's just semantics. The city already loved him, but that brilliant offensive gameplan against Dallas last year pushed the city into full-on infatuation mode.
7. Will Smith: A Pro Bowl lock for the forseeable future and the Saints' best player on defense. Also, so much fun you can have with that name.
8. Steve Gleason: Gleason's scary-good play on special teams and quirky personality have made him a cult hero for years, his blocked punt against Atlanta just a few minutes into the Superdome's re-opening last year solidified a spot in New Orleans history.
9. Mike Karney: Come for the excellent lead-blocking, stay for the occasional three-touchdown game.