NEW ORLEANS — Given a murderous crime wave, unrelenting red tape and vast stretches of neighborhoods that remain post-hurricane wastelands, it would be understandable if confidence were in short supply.

But Terry Saucier, whose home was wiped out 16 months ago by Hurricane Katrina —along with those of her brother and her father — sees it spreading.

And the once woebegone New Orleans Saints, who can reach their first Super Bowl with a victory over Chicago in Sunday's NFC title game, have much to do with that.

“This is the most confident team I’ve ever seen,” said Saucier, a business consultant. “They just brim over with confidence. Their confidence rubbed off on everyone else.”

“I feel like when I was 4 or 5 years old and you couldn’t wait for Christmas Day,” said Carl Huling, who runs Fat Harry’s, a bar and grill in the city’s Uptown section. “The whole city is abuzz. Everyone wants the game played today.”

After last year’s 3-13 performance, almost no one once believed the Saints could go this far. In fact, many believed the Saints — then with only six winning seasons in their 40-year history — would go elsewhere, judging by a joke from a year ago: “The Rose Bowl: Future Home of the Los Angeles Saints.” Now, all over the city flags with a fleur-de-lis — the Saints’ symbol — adorn front porches, windows and vehicle antennas, dominate conversations in elevators and outside buildings where smokers congregate and, in some cases, push aside regular business.

A church in the Carrollton neighborhood had to push up its annual business meeting Sunday to accommodate game time. New Orleans Judge Ernest L. Jones decided it might be impossible to put together a jury the day after the game, so he signed a defense motion to delay an asbestos liability trial until Wednesday “to accommodate all fans, including the great majority of the jury pool, the parties involved in this case and the counsel involved in this case.”

Stores carrying Saints merchandise — shirts, jerseys, caps and jackets — had lines out the door Thursday and struggled to keep enough merchandise in stock. “I think the days of seeing Saints merchandise on the clearance racks are a thing of the past,” said Kent August, who scrambled to find a Reggie Bush jersey for his 13-year-old daughter at Academy Sports and Outdoors in suburban Gretna.

Dennis Naquin had been looking for a Bush jersey for his 10-year-old son for two days. He called Academy so many times he finally put the number on speed dial on his cell phone.

Some fans are heading to Chicago. To accommodate them, Amtrak added another sleeping car and coach to its City of New Orleans train to Chicago on Thursday, Friday and Saturday.