New Orleans A sea of black-and-gold humanity eagerly waited outside the Louisiana Superdome on Monday night for a digital clock draped in front of the Poydras Street entrance to hit 0:00:00.
It was the same place where a year ago, a sea of humanity waited desperately for a way out of the Dome as Hurricane Katrina left thousands of storm-weary evacuees stranded for days. Time seemed to be at a standstill for those without food, water and, more often than not, a place to call home.
At 5:30 p.m. Monday, the black sheet behind the clock dropped. It wasn't rushing waters flooding the Superdome. It wasn't Katrina's might blowing the roof off the Dome. It was the storm-battered New Orleans Saints and all 70,003 fans pouring into their home for the first time since Dec. 26, 2004.
At 7:48 p.m., Saints kicker John Carney booted the opening kickoff. The Saints were officially back in New Orleans.
It only took the Saints 90 seconds to begin their 23-3 victory march over the Falcons. It's a victory the Saints faithful won't soon forget.
"This game belongs to the city and everyone in the Gulf South," Saints coach Sean Payton said.
The Saints couldn't have started the homecoming off any better.
Michael Vick and the Falcons went three-and-out on their opening possession. Saints linebacker Scott Fujita stripped Vick of the ball on third down with safety Bryan Scott nearly scooping up the fumble.
That was just the initial taste of the Saints' physical domination of the Falcons.
Saints special-team guru Steve Gleason blocked Michael Koenen's punt, allowing Curtis Deloatch to recover the ball in the end zone to put the Saints out front 7-0 with 13:30 in the first quarter.
"I wish I could have gone up to everybody in the aisles to thank them," Gleason said. "I love the people of New Orleans and for me to get a chance to give them that much joy was really special."
The Falcons vaunted rushing attack was nowhere to be found.
"We did a great of keeping them out the end zone," Payton said. "That's the No. 1 rushing team in football, not just the last two weeks, but the last couple of years."
Morten Andersen, the Saints' all-time leading scorer, was the only source of points for the Falcons with his 26-yard field goal in the first quarter.