I became a Saints fan in 2001, in the unlikeliest of places--my hometown of St. Simons Island, Georgia. Kenny and I were living there, during the brief experiment in which he tried life outside of New Orleans. As anyone who is or loves a native New Orleanian knows, they can't stay away too long--they always come back, eventually.
Kenny and I didn't last very long in Georgia. Kenny tried to like it, and we had a lot of fun along the way. We spent a lot of time at the beach, which I had missed desperately. We made several good friends--people that I hadn't known growing up there and that I'm still friends with today. We got married in the chapel I'd always hoped to marry in.
But there were just too many things that were foreign to him, like getting off of work at midnight and being unable to buy beer. Or last call. Or not being able to buy vodka at the drugstore. No Mardi Gras, no Jazzfest, no crawfish, no where y'at?
Around month two of living on SSI, we decided to go to a sports bar and watch a Saints game. I'd lived in New Orleans for four years prior to that, so I'd been to a few games. (One of the funnest days of my life, to this day, revolved around the Saints-Rams playoff game of 2000.) And I went to UGA, so it wasn't like I'd never watched football before. I mean, how can you go to UGA and not immerse yourself in the football scene? I think it might be required. But I'd never really been into the whole NFL scene.
So, mostly to make Kenny happy and to try to alleviate some of the homesickness he was feeling, we started going to the few sports bars around the island and tuning into the Saints games. This was all pre-Emmeline, so we had Sundays to ourselves. We soon discovered that if we showed up at Loco's, right around opening time at 11:00 a.m., we could claim one of the satellite televisions for ourselves and tune it to the Saints. Loco's had a first come, first served policy when it came to their satellite TVs, so even if everyone else in the bar wanted to change the channel (and often screamed at us to do so), we had gotten there first and therefore had "dibs."
At first, I just went to get out of the house, to hang out with my fiance and give him moral support. But then, sitting there, week after week, I started getting into it. And before I knew it, I knew all of the players' names. I was rooting for them. I was high-fiving Kenny in the bar when they won a game, which wasn't often. In one of football's finest grandstanding moments, back before they banned all of that stuff, I watched Hollywood Joe pull a cell phone out of the goal post padding and make a call to his sons after a touchdown. Kenny and I would camp out in Loco's, Sunday after Sunday, having a blast and telling people that they couldn't change the channel and we didn't care how much they wanted to watch the Cowboys or the Packers (the Falcons weren't real popular on SSI). We had gotten there first.
I continued to watch the Saints after we'd moved back to New Orleans. I was sad to see Jim Haslett go, even though I was as frustrated with him as everyone else. The Saints have never been known to be a winning team. I certainly wasn't around for the "Aints" days, or the fans wearing paper bags over their heads to the games, but God knows, I've heard my fair share about it.
I think I watched maybe two games during the 2005 season. There was a lot of other stuff going on, and it was just too depressing, watching the Saints being shuttled back and forth between San Antonio and Baton Rouge.
But then came 2006 and that magical season, starting off with the Monday Night Football game against the Falcons and the reopening of the Superdome. It may sound silly to you, but ask any Saints fan who went through Katrina and they will grudgingly admit to you that they openly cried at least once during that night. And we were all thrilled with that season, all the way to the end of it, with the heartbreaking loss to the Chicago Bears, which was made even worse by some of the behavior of Bears fans. But...during that incredible season, when the Saints finally made it to the NFC playoffs, do you know what their record was? 10-6.
Every year that I've lived in New Orleans, die-hard Saints fans have told me that this will be the year. This is the year that the Saints are going all the way. We all nod our heads and say yep, this is it. Until the Saints start losing, which always happens.
So this year, we're freaked out. I remember how excited we all were when the Saints went 4-0 this year. I have the text messages to prove it. And then they went 5-0. And 6-0. And 7-0. You get the picture. Now, with the win against the Patriots last Monday night, we're all the way up to 11-0.
And to be quite honest, we're all freaking the hell out. But in a good way. How is this possible? We're used to being losers--we're not America's team. And now we find out that the Saints-Pats game had the second highest viewer rating in Monday Night Football history.
But can I tell you a secret? We don't want to be America's team. We're not used to this spotlight and are unsure of what to do with ourselves. Now, every game, including the one this weekend against the Redskins, is a do-or-die game. Now, we have to hold off the Minnesota Vikings, and Brett freaking Favre, at every turn to gain homefield advantage in the NFC playoffs, if we make it that far (when we make it that far).
I'm not a sports writer--obviously. And there are still more rules to NFL football than I'll ever learn. All I can really tell you is what this means to us, the fans. We're all walking around on eggshells, daring to think that really, this might be the year that the Saints go all the way. And by God, it's scary. We seriously don't know how to deal with it. I get all anxious just writing about it.
So, what am I trying to say in this long-winded post? I don't know. Other than the fact that the Saints have done something magical to this city. Again. In every other category, we're screwed. Our mayor sucks (see previous post) and we can't wait for him to leave. Our crime rates are staggering. We have to drive 20 mph down every street in this city, even if the speed limit is 35, because you'll kill your car if you try to go any faster, what with all of the potholes, sinkholes, huge gaps of uneven pavement, etc. Our public school system is in shambles. Most days, it seems that a large majority of this country hates us for living here--even though they're more than willing to come here on vacation and puke in our streets, pee in our yards, and then complain about how dirty the city is. (Ohio, I'm looking at you.)
But you know what? None of that matters right now. Because we're 11-0, people. And we've all already gotten babysitters for February 7, 2010. And maybe the Saints won't make it all the way there. Maybe they'll crash and burn any day now. But it's been a hell of a ride, and we've enjoyed every single minute of it.
And in a city where everyday living has taken on an alternate universe feeling since 2005, we'll take it. New Orleans gets a lot of bad press, some of it deservedly so. But as someone who's lived here for quite some time, I can tell you that this is a city whose people are lovely and loving. Watch this video and tell me we're a racially divided people. All I see is people who love their city and love their Saints.
"It's the spirit that they're bringing to this city, the wave of euphoria that everyone is on...But more so, it's the emotion."
P.S. As my first Saints post ever, I hope that this won't prove to be bad mojo for the Saints and cause them to lose against the Redskins. If that happens, this post will disappear.