NEW ORLEANS – A dozen guests have canceled plans to attend the Saturday evening wedding of Tara Chauffe and Corey Boland, and they didn't need to make up an excuse.
"They have tickets. I totally understand," Chauffe said.
"I cried all last Sunday," said Chauffe, 26, recalling her reaction when she learned football would conflict with her real life. "And I feel really, really bad for the people who already bought playoff tickets who have to be" at the wedding.
Two bridesmaids and a groomsman who paid $600 for seats will be letting their tickets go, Boland added. They will miss a game that would be historic for Saints fans even without the backdrop of Hurricane Katrina's devastation; the Saints have never hosted a second-round playoff game.
And it could rival, in atmosphere and symbolism, the Sept. 25 Monday night game when the Saints returned to the dome for their first true home game since Katrina hit on Aug. 29, 2005, ripping the roof off the stadium, which was used as a "refuge of last resort" for evacuees.
Some fans at that game cried when they saw the dome's sparkling, freshly painted interior — a stark contrast to the horrific images broadcast from that same spot when evacuees were stranded there for days, with no plumbing or electricity, while floodwaters swamped surrounding streets.
Among fans in attendance were those who had been to past Super Bowls in New Orleans. They suggested even those championship games couldn't match the electric atmosphere when the dome reopened. After all, the majority of the fans on Sept. 25 were not out-of-town corporate types, but local die-hards who waited more than a year for their team to come back after a miserable nomadic season.
Thousands took the day off to join tailgate parties that spread for blocks around the stadium, and to watch free concerts on the plaza surrounding the dome.
NFL commissioners past and present were there, along with international rock stars U2 and Green Day, who performed before the game.
John Rodli, a guitarist with the locally popular New Orleans Jazz Vipers, skipped his band's regular Monday gig to watch the Saints beat Atlanta that night. He has tickets to the playoff game as well, won't have to miss a show this time, but said he would if it came to that.
Rodli suggested the game against the Eagles somehow feels bigger than the Monday night game. After all, this game, too, is still part of the season that marked the Saints' return. But it's also the story of a fan base, renowned for its loyalty and passion in the face of so much losing over the last four decades, hosting a game of greater magnitude than the Saints have ever played at home.
The other time the Saints made the second round was the 2000 season, when they lost at Minnesota.
"At the time, of course, Monday was it. That was the game of the century — huge," Rodli said. "But I think this game is bigger now. The anticipation for all this has been long-lasting throughout the years; them even getting to this spot of having a first-round bye ... is unheard of."
Saints officials have worked to recreate the block-party atmosphere that accompanied the Monday night game. There will be free concerts outside, with the Steve Miller Band as the headliner, along with a pair of Louisiana acts: blues musician Luther Kent and the Rebirth Brass Band. Miller is slated to sing the national anthem.
He said the game is a step in that direction.
"I do believe just them playing in the city itself is medicine," Rodli said. "Obviously, this is huge what they've done. It's just an extreme added bonus that I think a lot of people take humbly, but are extremely gratified by it. It's dynamite that this should happen. And even if they lose this game, just the future of that team, the promise it brings, is a great antidote — not for building houses, but for people's morale, as much as sports can do."
Meanwhile, Chauffe and Boland are considering the previously unthinkable: Asking the reception hall to set up a television tuned to the game.
"That would be nice for the guests, but we don't want to hear yelling in the background while we're having our first dance," Chauffe said. "Maybe we can turn it on after the first couple dances."