More than seven years after Hurricane Katrina tore through the gulf region, scars of her devastation remain.
Across the St. Claude Avenue Bridge, out of sight of the bustling hub of Super Bowl XLVII, a few abandoned houses still sprinkle the streets of the Lower Ninth Ward, some with faded spray paint still on the doors that once indicated the number of dead bodies inside.
A few miles farther east in St. Bernard Parish, past a slew of new restaurants, rebuilt strip malls and some still-empty plots of land, Lions cornerback Lionel Smith doesn't have to go far to remember the ordeal he went through in the months after Katrina hit.
Smith, who joined the Lions' practice squad in October, underwent season-ending shoulder surgery a few weeks later and signed a futures deal Dec. 31, was one of an estimated 1.5-million people displaced by the worst natural disaster in U.S. history.
But as New Orleans hosts its 10th Super Bowl, an event that has helped speed the region's recovery, Smith said the deadly storm gave light to his blossoming football career and made the city a stronger, more determined place.
"Honestly, Katrina was a blessing to me and my family," Smith said. "Like I say, without Katrina you wouldn't even know who I am right now."
Smith was a dazzling but under-recruited triple-option quarterback at St. Bernard Parish High who was getting ready to start his senior season when Katrina hit.
Lions' Lionel Smith and New Orleans have risen from Hurricane Katrina's wrath
Detroit Free Press | Feb 1