Break from reality

ROB LONGLEY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:41 AM ET

SAN ANTONIO -- As happening American urban hot spots go, the River Walk here will never be confused with the French Quarter of New Orleans.

But for Sonya Jackson, the bars and restaurants of the south Texas city will more than do in this pinch.

A lifelong Saints fan, the displaced Louisianan has never craved a football game more than today's meeting between the Buffalo Bills and the Saints at the Alamodome.

"All we want to do is forget for a few hours," said Jackson, decked out in Mardi Gras beads and a black and gold Saints jersey. "Forget about the horrible, horrible things we have been living. I can't thing of a better way to do it than to see my Saints win one for us all."

Jackson is one of some 20,000 Hurricane Katrina evacuees who is making do in South Texas. Currently housed in a local motel, she was one of hundreds the Saints handed free tickets to today's game.

As it has with its new inhabitants, who wear white bracelets to identify their plight, the city has embraced the team. On the exterior of the Alamodome, a huge "Saints Faith" banner has been posted. The signature team fleur-de-lis was painted on the field this week and all fans for today's game will be handed black and gold pom-poms.

In establishments along the River Walk, "Go Saints" posters and schedules are pasted up alongside those of most Texans' first football love, the Dallas Cowboys.

But as grateful as the Saints are for the support, coach Jim Haslett says its time to put the sympathy angle behind them.

"We need to get this football team on track," Haslett said following Friday's practice. "We haven't played as well as we would like ... we're going to try to fix this (today).

"I don't know what to expect from the crowd or the atmosphere. Hopefully it's loud and disruptive to Buffalo."

While Jackson doesn't know if and when her life will return to normal, the Saints finally are back to a semblance of something routine. Their first "home" game was played two weeks ago against the Giants at the Meadowlands, a fact that still sticks in the craw of many Saints.

Weeks 1 and 3 were on the road in Carolina and Minnesota while much of the time in between was spent dealing with the difficult logistics thrust upon them.

Finally, the Saints have had a regular week of practice and a Saturday in the comfort of their temporary homes.

From a football standpoint, that will help against a Bills team also looking to right itself. So to should the support of the 60,000 or so expected at the Alamodome.

"San Antonio has embraced us to another level and we appreciate it," receiver Joe Horn said. "Saints fans are going to love us regardless.

"Wherever they are, I want them to know we care about them and we'll never forget what happened. We'll carry them on our back. This is a job. but it's still a game and it's supposed to be fun. Katrina has put things in perspective."

While the evacuees have a much more uncertain future, Horn and his teammates can move on starting today. With 12 turnovers and 36 penalties in their first three games, the Saints have played sloppy, ugliness the coach says would be insulting to blame on Katrina.

"We've got to cut those things out," Haslett said. "Let's not make excuses. Us travelling the past few weeks really don't have anything to do with our play on the field."


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