Sunday, January 24, 2010

'Bert' and the Modern Battle of New Orleans

Even Ol’ Hickory and Johnny Horton and the Witch Queen of New Orleans would have to sell their souls to get a ticket to today’s NFC Championship Game between the Saints and the spur-under-your-saddle Dallas Cowboys.

Oh, wait a minute. That’s not right. Dallas got torched last week in Minneapolis. Barely beaten, 34-33.

What? Wait. Sorry. I meant 34-THREE. Just one three. Just three more points than you and I scored. And the Cowboys had practiced since July. To get beaten by four touchdowns-plus.

(Wade Phillips is a nice guy you can tell, but every time they show him on the sidelines I see a marshmallow with headphones on. I don’t mean that ugly. His dad was nice and he’s nice and all that, but Cowboys fans, you do know that until you get another person to bring some swagger to match the persona, like Jimmy Johnson or Barry Switzer or Jon Gruden, or a football-smart classy person to rise above it like Tom Landry, it’s not gonna happen. It’s just not. Even I know that. And I like Dallas, the town and the people and all. But I’m just sayin…)
So, it’s the Saints and the Minnesota Vikings, led by Brett Favre, 40 in real years and about 25 in Brett Favre years.

Or, as my sister’s beautiful father-in-law calls him, Bert Farve.


Whatever you call him, and despite his tendency to have crazy games where the tries to throw passes through defensive backs, he’s a bad hombre.

Unless Bert decides to retire (again) before the 5:40 kickoff, he will be a sort of cherry on the top of a memorable football hot fudge sundae Sunday.

Look what you’ve got:

* Bert being Bert.

* In north Louisiana, longsuffering Saints fans still rooting for a team that’s alive – and favored! – experience the rarified air of January victories while their rival Darth Vader villains – Cowboys fans – fume that the Vikings “ran up” the score last week. The franchise of T.O. and Neon Deion and a facelifted owner and a billion-dollar stadium complains that teams with 40-year-old quarterbacks need to take it easy on them? The Cowboy fan is now in the unenviable position of rooting for either the “sore winners” or for the stepchild Saints.

* You’ve got a rebuilding city playing for a title in a dome that five years ago was the world’s largest triage center.

* A Saints quarterback who does what Saints fans have watched other teams do to theirs through the years: complete 70 percent of his passes, most of them to tall, fast receivers who play with a kind of confident nonchalance. Silent assassins.

* Of course you have the backdrop itself, the City of New Orleans, an R-rated amusement park that’s shown a heart for football, even though it’s basically had to share one swing set and one slide since 1967. These people are bursting at the laces.

* And then, again, good ol’ Bert. Good ol’ Wrangler-wearin’, mind-changing, ancient yet energetic Bert from neighboring Mississippi, the kid next door who just refuses to come in from recess.

Journalists are not supposed to show favoritism. But I guess I’m just a writer these days, not a real journalist.

So Go Saints.

In my heart of hearts (whatever that is), I don’t care too much who wins or who loses and never really have. When I was writing ballgames all the time, I just wanted to cover what happened. Naturally you pull for people to do well – or not – when you get to know them. Human nature. I don’t know them anymore. But don’t you feel like you sort of know the Saints? When I look at them I always see their body of work, all the losing seasons, and those few autumns I watched them lose to the 49ers and Falcons and even the Cowboys, regularly as a faucet drip. Sort of hapless but …. In the words of Luther Ingram, if loving them is wrong, do you really want to be right?

Maybe it’s time the writers I know whose final Saints playoff story of the season (though rare) was always about a loss, maybe they get to write a happy tale for a change. Maybe the ‘Aints get to bury the bags. Maybe the greatest of them all, Saint Archie, gets the pleasure of rooting for one of his sons to actually beat his favorite team in, of all things, the Super Bowl. Maybe, for the city and for all the ghosts of Saints past…

Richard Todd,
Deuce and Dempsey,
Hokie Gajan,
Anne Rice whimsy.
Big Will Roaf,
Billy Kilmer,
Mayfair witch.

Joe Horn phones,
Manning scrambles,
Handoff to
The Earl of Campbell,
John Hill, Jake Kupp,
Stram’s toupee,
(I think I’ll look
the other way…)

Bum Phillips in his
Cowboy hat,
Grammatic fumbles
Like “Who Dat?!”
Garden District,
Quarter French,
TWO Billy Joes
Come off the bench!

Blasts from the past
Like Rod McNeil.
Can you say,
“Joe Federspiel”?
Zellars, Hilliard,
Mills, Capone,
Did patrolling
In the ’Dome.
Tommy Myers and
Tony G.,
Let’s give them all
A fleur de lis!

“What’s the diff
today?” you ask.
Well, these guys can
Run AND pass
And kick and catch,
Play defense too.
And heaven knows
They’re way past due.
New Orleans/Vikes.
What will it be?
I’ll roll the dice here:
Saints by 3.