As I sat in my living room last Sunday evening and watched the New Orleans Saints become the world football champions, I couldn’t help but think back to the days following Katrina. One of our customer relationships called right after the storm to tell us they weren’t sure what happened to their properties in New Orleans. They couldn’t make contact with the managers. Could we help? I immediately said yes. When a friend asks, you step in and do anything you can.

Two days after Katrina smashed into the Louisiana coast, I made a call to a friend at the FAA and he gave us clearance to fly. We rounded up a four passenger Bell Jet Ranger Helicopter and proceeded to New Orleans MSA. It was a relief to discover that, other than minor damage, the properties were not affected. They were even more fortunate that their entire team was accounted for and safe.

These images taken by Clinton Smith came from that uneasy helicopter tour. Revisiting them reminded me how tragedy can affect us all when we least expect it. Nine months after Katrina, I was back in New Orleans and cars remained stacked on top of cars underneath Interstate 10. Many of the shops on Canal Street were still not open.

But instead of being a defeat, the battering from the storm united the city and strengthened the ties that bound residents. The Crescent City has come a long way since the tragedy they endured four years ago. Today, New Orleans is back in business and home to a championship team. A new set of fans rallied around the Saints not because of their football skills, but because of what they represented—the American dream of rising above a challenge. Super Bowl XLIV became the most watched program in television history.

In the final few minutes of the game last Sunday evening, I e-mailed my customer in New Orleans to get his insight on the game. How did it feel? His response: “Who dat gonna beat ‘dem Saints?” What a great story of triumph over adversity.

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Merrill Stewart is Founder and President of the Stewart Perry Company, a commercial building contractor based in Birmingham, Ala. Contact him via email.
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