The New Orleans Saints eked out their 13th victory of the NFL season over division rival Atlanta on Sunday. In case you’ve been living under a rock, this is BIG NEWS for several reasons:
- The win set a Saints franchise record for most wins in a season
- Never before have 2 NFL teams (the other: Indianapolis Colts) been undefeated this far into the season
- It is within the realm of possibility that both teams could go undefeated and meet in the Super Bowl.
I will leave it to the sports pundits to analyze whether the Saints’ wins have been impressive enough, whether the holes in their secondary can be plugged well enough to contend through the playoffs, whether Favre or Brees is a better big-game QB, and other technical questions. Not that I haven’t considered or don’t wish to engage these questions, it’s just that if you care about those things, you’ve already done your own research and reading.
No… I’m going to talk about WHO-DAT* FEVER – the collective condition that has struck the city of New Orleans and Saints fans all over the country. Some call it a bandwagon and others resent that newly-minted fans are jumping on the bandwagon without paying the “penance” of the last 40-some-odd years of the ‘Aints.
*Who-Dat comes from the N’awlins parlance for: “Who Dat say dey gonna beat dem Saints?”
Douglas McCollam’s ode in the Wall Street Journal pretty accurately sums up the sentiment of long-time Saints fans.
The Saints and I came into the world at around the same time in the 1960s, and over the ensuing four decades it's been a rocky affair. The team didn't have a winning season in its first 20 years, won only two playoff games in the next 20, and has never made it to the Super Bowl. Like any group of penitents, long-suffering Saints fans can recite the catalogue of woes that have befallen the team, a pigskin version of the Stations of the Cross. Rarely have so many rooted for so long for so little.
Yes, Douglas, we remember the pain. This is the franchise that drafted Russell Erxleben, a kicker/punter, number 1 and gave up two years worth of draft picks for Ricky Williams. The same franchise that gave the Tampa Bay Buccaneers their first win EVER.
I KNOOOWWW. I was there! I sat in the Superdome for many a game watching Archie Manning (yep, Peyton & Eli’s dad) run for his life behind a swiss-cheese offensive line, wishing we’d had 1/3 of the Pittsburgh Steeler’s offensive talent so Archie could prove he was just as worthy of Terry Bradshaw’s four Super Bowl rings.
I started going to Saints games as a kid at old Tulane Stadium before they built the Superdome. My parents & my grandmother had season tickets; I started going with my grandmother when my great-grandfather got too old to go. I attended every home game until I left for college.
I even got to take a date in High School for a Monday Night game because my grandmother didn’t like to go to night games. Too bad it was during the Aints years, and all the adults in my family wore their paper bags to dinner while getting summarily drunk. Mortification!
So, yes, there is history. There’s also the fact that my grandmother passed away this past August that makes me appreciate the Saints’ success this year even more. I know I sound sentimental. The Saints fever is a bit irrational even.
Here’s the thing: all sports fan-dom is emotional!
No, my life won’t change whether the Saints win the Super Bowl or lose in the playoffs. I know this. But, the intangible feeling that has pervaded New Orleans and all those connected with the city is strong. It’s positive. And it’s contagious…
The city is celebrating. There is a newfound sense of possibility and purpose. The sense that New Orleans has been through enough (see: Katrina, MrGo, etc.) and maybe it’s our turn for something good to happen is palpable.
Perhaps the greatest thing to me personally about Saints fever has been how it has fostered connections with people I never would have met or re-connections with far-flung & out-of-touch friends and deeper connections with family and friends.
Through the wonders of modern technology and Southwest Airlines, I’ve been able to share and celebrate Saints fever even though I no longer live in New Orleans.
Week 7: Saints 46, Dolphins 34
Thursday before the game,my aunt calls me on my cell phone:
“I’m driving to Fort Lauderdale; I have an extra ticket to the Saints game Sunday, any way you can meet me?”
Me: “I can stay with my cousin, I think I have a SWA ticket, [little to no cash outlay], I can do that!”
Sitting in Miami, when the Saints were losing, I thought about my grandma.
“No, I can’t pray to her for a win, that’s sacrilegious/disrespectful. I need to save it for the Super Bowl.”
Upshot: A great weekend bonding with my aunt, cousin & her hubby, watching LSU & the Saints win and enjoying some warm weather.
I’ve spent Sundays (and one Monday) connecting with Saints fans on Twitter & Facebook. Finding common bond with those old high school friends with distinctly different political views. Meeting other fans on Twitter/tweeting during close games – having a blast sharing the heart attack moments and feeling not quite so far away. For some reason, all my NOLA friends are in a good mood on Monday.
After the New England game, it hits me – they could really do this!
Week 13: Saints 33, Redskins 30 F/OT
With our Club-level tickets acquired from Ebay, the boy & I don our matching Drew Brees jerseys and head to FedEx field on a VERY cold, windy day. We see an amazing amount of “Saints Swag” throughout the stadium. What fun!
Intimidated by the sheer number of cars at FedEx and freezing, having rejected the suggestion of long underwear, the boy convinces me to leave before the game’s end.
Upshot: embarrassed to admit leaving early, but had a great time with the kid, and we were home in front of the fire to watch the Saints pull out another improbably victory.
Love also the shared sentiment of Skins’ fans and other NOLA expats, as well as all long-suffering fans all around the country (Cubs, Jets, etc).
From my Twitter Stream:
So…about that bandwagon.
I say, “jump on, there’s room enough for everyone!”
Some Kermit Ruffins' for your entertainment