It's been a beautiful few months here in New Orleans, what with Saints wins to talk about almost every Monday morning. And this one was the granddaddy of them all. To say "Saints" and "Superbowl" in the same sentence still seems, well, wrong. It's almost like you need to throw salt over your shoulder after you say it to ward off whatever hubris you might be attracting for next year by uttering those words together.
Because in New Orleans, until now, it has always been NEXT year that will be our saving grace. NEXT year is the year that the Saints will finally pull it off. We say it consolingly to each other at the end of every season, and we say it with a touch of humor in our voices at the start of each season, when next year has arrived. This is it. This is going to be OUR year. Who knew that it would actually come true this time around?
I won't go over a blow by blow history of my burgeoning love for the Saints again. If you're interested in how that happened, you can read about it here. And I know that compared to pretty much every native Louisianan, being a Saints fan for only ten years makes me a relative newbie. But wow, what a ride it's been this year. You can't help but walk around New Orleans and notice that everyone--EVERYONE--has a look in their eyes that switches back and forth between sheer joy and a profound sense of disbelief.
You've heard it all before, but it's so true. This city loves the Saints, with the purest, most unadulterated love you'll ever see. And that's one of the things I love about this place--despite all of its problems (and God knows, those are numerous), people around here live in a way I've never seen before.
Mardi Gras, at least for the natives, has absolutely nothing to do with Bourbon Street, boobs, and beads. Sure, we go down there occasionally to gawk at the people from far-flung, exotic places like Indiana who are baring it all and then throwing up in the streets (and who then go home and complain about how dirty New Orleans is). But that's not the real Mardi Gras. The real Mardi Gras is standing on the parade route, oftentimes in the same spot, and reveling in the amazing spectacle of an entire community coming together. Young and old, black and white, middle class and poor (I can't speak for the incredibly wealthy of New Orleans), we all go out there and enjoy the show. And you bond with the people around you. And they become your best friends--black and white, young and old, middle class and poor--even if it's only for that one night. You dance together to the brass bands. You swap beads. You share advice on the best free bathrooms. It's a huge sense of belonging to a community, because you have the shared love of this one thing, Mardi Gras.
Long story even longer, the Saints are the same way. You can go anywhere, at any time, and talk to any person in New Orleans. And more likely than not, you can bond with that person, even for the briefest moment, over the Saints. And on a larger scale, you bond over why you choose to still live in New Orleans, despite all the heartaches involved in living here, despite all of the sacrifices you have to be willing to make to live here. Despite all the scorn from complete strangers you have to be prepared to put aside.
As I've said before, even though I'd lived here for seven years prior, I didn't fully commit to living in New Orleans--didn't fully commit to making it "home," with all of that word's loaded connotations--until after my husband and I made the decision to come back after Katrina (a no-brainer for him, a lot more difficult of a decision for me). It's the indescribable pull you feel from--and for--this place that draws you in. And right now, our current roster of New Orleans Saints get it. They get that people will be cheering them on, win or lose. That people will be waiting for them at the airport after an away game, rain or shine, win or lose. That people here just have a sheer joy for life that doesn't seem to translate that well in the rest of the country. That New Orleanians will always have an indomitable spirit of optimism that makes those of us who live here crazy in a lot of ways. Be it to come back to this city that had--and has--so many problems and try to make it better after Katrina; be it to always somehow find ways to turn a time of sorrow into a time of joy, like at a jazz funeral; be it to continue rooting for a team that has been the cause of a lot of heartbreak for so many people for so long. Always, they're willing to say that everything will turn out right.
Holly wrote a beautiful post on this and said it much better than I can. But the Saints going to the Superbowl is validation of why we live here. And why so many people have such an intense love/hate relationship with this place. Even when you live here and are having a day of contemplating moving to the suburbs, you can't really see yourself living any place else--especially if that means living in a place where Mardi Gras is just another Tuesday. It stings to hear the constant insults thrown at New Orleans and her residents--even four years later. Even a conversation on espn.com about the Saints invariably devolves into a diatribe about the welfare queens of New Orleans.
This post was supposed to just be a quick story about where I watched the NFC championship game. I guess I had a lot more to say than that. But anyway, here's the original story. I flew in from Georgia on Sunday night, after flying over there for the weekend for my father's wedding. I got a flight that was scheduled to land 10 minutes after kick-off and prayed to the air traffic gods that it would be on time. So, by the time my plane had landed, I'd gotten my baggage, and hauled my daughter and luggage into the long-term parking lot at the MSY airport and into my car, I was a nervous wreck. And it was almost half-time. You've never seen someone race through bathtime and a book for a four-year-old as quickly as I did during that half-time break. And then there I was, on the biggest night in New Orleans history, on my couch, by myself. All of my closest friends were at the game, my husband was at work. It was kind of a bummer, I have to say.
So I watched the second half by myself. On my couch. (Ten years ago, if you'd asked me if I'd ever care about a sports team enough to watch a game by myself, on my couch, on a Sunday night, I would've laughed at you.) And even though I was watching by myself at home, wearing pajama bottoms and my Saints shirt, I was full of adrenaline. And during that second half, I danced around in my living room, clapped my hands, jumped up and down, cursed at the refs, and screamed at Joe Buck and Troy Aikman to STFU already about how awesome Favre is. During the last two minutes of regulation play, I curled up on the couch in the fetal position, with a pillow clutched to my face in case I needed to hide whatever ugliness might ensue. I got confused trying to figure out what the frantic look on Brett Favre's face meant right before the referees penalized the Vikings for 12 men in the huddle. I shrieked when Tracy Porter intercepted the ball. And when Garrett Hartley kicked the winning field goal, I was out the front door of my house, screaming like a banshee and hugging all of my neighbors. Several of whom I'd never, ever met before. About 15 people tried to call me Sunday night, and not a one of them got through, because the 504 area code was completely jammed with insane people trying to call everyone they knew. I think it's safe to estimate that at least 250,000 text messages that said nothing but "who dat" went out on Sunday night. (I personally got a text message from a Georgia friend wanting to know what in the hell who dat meant and why, in God's name, did everybody keep screaming it?)
One final story--over Thanksgiving, I asked my mom if she'd be willing to babysit Emmeline if the Saints went to the Superbowl. My mom, who has never, ever, as far as I know, watched a football game in her life. We probably don't need the babysitter after all, but I emailed her today to tease her about her babysitting obligation. She emailed me back and said that she and Nick (my step-father) had watched the overtime portion of the game, were caught up in the excitement, and were now planning to watch the Superbowl. That's the Saints for you.
And that's the end of this incredibly long Saints ramble. Who dat! If that still doesn't explain our Saints love affair, how about this?
|Saints Video: Bourbon Street|