Monday, February 8, 2010

Who Was Dat, Anyway?

There are so many feel-good stories associated with the Saints winning the Super Bowl that it's not worth digging into most of them here. Obviously, I was cheering for the Saints tonight, and it wasn't just because of New Orleans's ongoing battle to recover from the tragedy of Katrina or because of the city's deep love for the team, although those would be fine reasons to support the black and gold and certainly factored into my interest.

It wasn't just because I have family in Louisiana, either, or because my mother-in-law is from Shreveport and my in-laws lived in New Orleans for a while, or because I've been to New Orleans a few times and have always loved it, or because I've actually been on a tour of the Superdome. I've been a latent Saints fan for years, always kind of hoping for them to do well and cheering for them when they're not playing Dallas or New England. Adding a big chunk of family down in Louisiana by marrying my lovely wife--who lived in Shreveport as a kid--only made my feelings toward the Saints that much warmer. So, I had good reasons to cheer for the Saints. Plus, I just love that logo.

But the biggest thing that had me cheering for the Saints tonight was the fact that...well, they're the Saints. The SAINTS. The franchise that had just two playoff wins in its 42-year history before this season. The team once famously known as the Aints. The franchise that had Archie Manning running for his life decades before his son would unintentionally complete a pass to Tracy Porter that would send Louisiana into rapture. The New Orleans Saints, a team that was so bad for so long that it was the butt of jokes, the subject of pity (long before Katrina) and the absolute dregs of the NFL. It wasn't that the Saints came close and fell at the final hurdle (as even the Tampa Bay Bucs managed to do in 1979); no, the Saints were just bad, bad, bad for a long, long, long time. I cannot overstate this.

When I was a kid, a fast-food place called Del Taco had a contest. It gave away little scratch-off cards (like lottery tickets) with names of three or four NFL teams hiding under the silver scratch-off stuff on each card. The more of your teams that won that Sunday, the better the prize you'd get from Del Taco. Well, back then, my best friend and I were fiercely competitive, even about stupid stuff like this. As soon as I scratched off my silver and read that one of my teams was the Saints, though, I knew that I had an automatic loss right there. And that's exactly how it turned out. (For the record, I think I won something like a small drink with my one pathetic victory, while my friend had a perfect card and literally won something like a steak--from a burrito place. Go figure. I don't know that he ever collected on it, though. I'm pretty sure I did.)

But those Saints, the guaranteed losers with the great logo, the sharp uniforms and the crazy fans, are gone now. The logo, the togs and the fans are still there, but the team's not a loser anymore. It's a champion, a Super Bowl winner. On the list of things I never thought I'd see in my lifetime, the New Orleans Saints winning the Super Bowl was very near the top, maybe even on top, for literally decades. But tonight, the Saints not only gave New Orleans something to celebrate, they also gave hope to every fan of every beaten-down sports team in the US and maybe in the world. If the Saints can do it, anybody can do it. (I'm trying to apply that thinking to the Boston Bruins right now...although not for this season. Hey, the colors are similar...)

So, thank you, Saints, the new America's Team, for providing a thrill ride for fans across the country and for reminding us that undying, ridiculous, painful, frustrating, seemingly totally futile love of and faith in a sports franchise can end up paying off after all. Enjoy your party, Saints fans. You have more than earned it. Laissez les bons temps rouler!

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