Wednesday, February 17, 2010
(I am now Sainted out for a bit ... but here is a final effort/recap for all the true black and gold fans out there who have grinded it wholeheartedly since the Johnson Administration. Enjoy your offseason!)
For 43 years, it was love unrequited. New Orleans Saints fans kept showing up. The team didn’t always do the same. And when they did, fans left with the feeling they’d forked over their money and their hearts without getting so much as a card or a kiss.
There were 34 losing seasons in 43 long years. There were 1-15 campaigns. There were 8-8 seasons that caused, all things being relative, manic joy. There were even playoff appearances, but those were just dust in the wind.
Not until this past Sunday.
Has it been just a week? Has it been only a week since Saints, 31, Indianapolis Colts 17? Since grown men wept and old ladies trembled in their jersey-wearing bosoms, both overwhelmed by a relief known only to the loving, to the loyal, and to the ever hopeful?
Consummation Sunday. .
Was it worth the wait? Alfred Tennyson said, in that silver-tongued way of his, that it’s better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all. There were times you’d have had a hard time convincing Saints fans of that. But this Valentine’s Day Sunday, a week removed from those unforgettable goings-on in Miami’s Sun Life Stadium, you can bet your hat and your jock strap that it was all worth it. Every gut-wrenching second of every hair-pulling season of every mind-numbing decade.
Saints 31, Colts 17.
Super Bowl Champions.
What makes it so special? What removes it from another hum-drum Super Bowl game, from another national championship or another pro sports title? What made Super Bowl XLIV the most watched television show ever? I mean, nobody really rallied around the pitiful Seattle Seahawks a few years ago when they played in the Super Bowl, a fact you’d probably already forgotten. Think you’ll ever forget where you were when the Saints won the Super Bowl?
Why did so many people care?
Maybe on this day that spotlights lovers, the poets can help us…
LINE OF WHITE SPACE
“Love is blind.” We’ve all heard it. We’ve all said it. We just don’t know who said it first. It’s an anonymous proverb.
It’s anonymous because no one would admit to being the first to say something that stupid.
If love were blind, Archie Manning’s own sons wouldn’t have asked their mom if they could join the Superdome chorus that early 1980s afternoon. While the Saints lost yet another game on their way to a 1-15 season, the ages 4 and 6 sons of The Greatest Saint of Them All looked at a very pregnant (with Eli) Olivia Manning and said, “Can we boo, too, Mom?”
Love sees the warts. For years, fans of the Saints saw and verbally acknowledged their team’s shortcomings. They did not turn a blind eye to fumbles, to sacks, to sieve defenses and 25-watts offenses. They did not hide their frustrations from on-field train wrecks and front office foibles.
They wore grocery sacks on their heads and called their team “The ’Aints.”
Denial is blind. Denial says, “Oh, that’s OK; we’ll be fine.” But with alarming clarity, true love sees that we blew it in the draft, that we’ll be killed by free agency and that our offensive line can’t block air -- but true love holds on tightly and hopes anyway. Love says, “They’re terrible and they’re the ’Aints, but they’re OUR ’Aints.”
LINE OF WHITE SPACE
“He is not a lover who does not love forever.” Euripides said that. Euripides was a Greek playwright who knew nothing about football but a lot about the heart of a Saints fan.
These fans were embraced by America because they booed when booing was due and embraced when booing was due. These people didn’t give up. These fans withstood a hurricane, a season without a team, a season with just a piece of a city!, and kept coming back for more. These fans were and are football realists living in a bit of a carnival city.
The only other NFL fans who can even have a conversation with Saints fans are the ones in Detroit, who have had a team since there were 13 colonies and still haven’t sniffed a Super Bowl. But the difference here? Detroit has the Red Wings. And the Pistons. And the Tigers, who might have won another World Series only two years ago if their pitchers could have thrown comebackers to first base. Detroit is a city with some championship banners hanging around. Even the Lions won four or five NFL championships back in the day of the leather helmet.
No, the Saints fans are in a league by themselves.
(WERE in a league by themselves.)
Through 43 years of unsightly escapades, Saints fans kept showing up. Loving, though thin and thinner. A poet’s wife once said that nobody has ever measured, not even poets, how much a heart can hold. And that might be true. But we know this: a heart can hold at least 43 years worth of disappointment and still be filled with love. Saints fans knew their Dome Patrol defense had no offense, and they knew their offense of ’06 had no defense. But somehow, Saints fans for years held on loosely to what the Saints were, and tightly to the dream of what they could become.
LINE OF WHITE SPACE
American Pulitzer Prize winner Willa Cather reminds us that “where there is great love, there are always miracles.” I’m not sure when she said that; maybe it was November of 1970, right after club-footed Tom Dempsey kicked the record 63-yard field goal in Tulane Stadium to beat Detroit.
At that point, with the Saints franchise only four seasons old, New Orleans fans hadn’t had enough football experience to be overly happy or overly sad. Of course, time and fumbles and interceptions would take care of that.
The honeymoon, it seemed, would never come.
But then Sunday bloomed, and Tuesday brought this suggestion from the editorial page: “Breath deep this fleur-de-lis bouquet made all the sweeter by the slow delivery.”
A teen celebrating Sunday’s victory is all fine and dandy, but he hasn’t hurt enough to enjoy what the old guard were able Sunday to lock away in the corner of their battle-scarred hearts when Tracy Porter picked off Peyton Manning and raced into Saints history. For young Saints fans and fans of pure football, Sunday’s title was one to toast, to appreciate or drink and party to.
But for some, it was more than that. People who don’t understand that athletics can be more than just a game just don’t understand how a human heart works.
There is a guy in Shreveport and another in Sterlington and a lady in Gretna and another in Port Allen, each in their 60s and all bound by years of frustration and now, bound by a Saints Super Bowl win. These are the kinds of people who remember Kilmer’s wobbly passes and Dempsey’s kick and Archie’s rookie season. These are your card-carrying Saints Fans. And the ones in New Orleans proper, the ones who battled losing seasons and losing all the possessions they had in Katrina, they’re in a special league of fan. I’m not sure any other fans in sports history have taken such a ride.
A friend of mine has a buddy from Covington who started weeping after the Colts fourth-down try failed with less than a minute to go in Sunday’s game. These two have known each other well and for 36 years, but never has my friend seen such emotion from his buddy. He wasn’t misty-eyed; he wept.
And why? Maybe because of all his native city has been through. Maybe because of the Super Bowl Eve New Orleans mayoral election, in which 70 percent of whites and 63 percent of blacks voted for the same candidate. And maybe because the underdog Saints’ victory just piled more hope upon hope for his city and his state and his friends.
Nothing against Indianapolis, but they have a Super Bowl win. Maybe Providence does care about football, at least just a little bit.
So…what about next year? The Saints are young. They have Brees. They have only a couple of really big free agents who may be tough to sign; the rest are restricted or expendable. (Hate to use the word “expendable” in a love story, but we ARE still talking about the NFL.)
Remember this: The Pittsburgh Steelers took 40 years to win a division title and then another couple to win their first Super Bowl. That was in 1974. Then they won three more and were the undisputed Team of the Decade. I’m just sayin’…