Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Why I have faith in the Saints

In my life I've supported a lot of seemingly lost causes, things that offer brief glimmers of hope and long glimmers of despair. The University of Louisiana name issue. The Democratic Party. My own writing career. But nothing personifies my love for the underdog quite like my enduring love for the New Orleans Saints.

You might call it a birthright. When I was born in 1980, I came out with a paper bag over my head. I had scrawled "Aints" across it in the womb, the misspelling of which gave me the name that still haunts me today. And I know that, as long as I'm me--and no matter how hard I try to shake the negative connotations of being a Louisianian--I will always be a die-hard fan of the Saints. There's no other way to support them, really.

Fortunately, Sean Payton's scrappy 2006 squad is making such unconditional support a lot easier than it has been in the past. First, the obvious: they're 5-1, and hot off a thrilling victory over the excellent Philadelphia Eagles. Second, there's the human side; this team is largely new, helmed by a rookie head coach and hosts some of the most devoted transplants New Orleans has ever seen. Drew Brees' Times-Picayune ad introducing himself and his wife to the Big Easy is one of the nicest gestures I've seen a pro player do in a long time. Especially for a city that needs its heroes more than ever.

But of course, it's too early to tell where the Saints are headed. They are far from perfect, and must continue to prove themselves week after week. They face the perils of any football team, and do so with more attention than usual. But on so many levels, I trust this team to not let us down. My reasons for this go far beyond simple critiques of football mechanics or statistics; indeed, it's more of a feeling. A feeling of optimism I haven't had in a long time. And here's why:

--They're better than they have any right to be. Sean Payton adopted Jim Haslett's baby, immediately shattered its jaw, broke its nose and gave it a few questionable limb transplants. At the time, we didn't know what that kid would look like; indeed, the initial bruising made for a very ugly sight. But at least for the time being, the finished product looks good. Maybe the surgeon isn't so green after all.

--They're not like the previous 5-win Saints squads who blew it all. Historically, an early-season Saints lead was (to paraphrase Chris Rock) just the countdown to their breakdown. Who could forget the dismal 1993 season, for example, when the Saints capped off two consecutive playoff seasons--and a 5-0 start--by finishing 8-8? I still remember the turnaround point in that sixth game, and I was only 13 at the time! It was that palpable. Saints football is always palpable.

But watching the Saints this season, nothing suggests to me that this team isn't in it to win it. They aren't resting on their laurels, nor do they exhibit a fatalist view that things could fall apart at any moment. They just play. And that may be the biggest factor in their success thus far.

--They care about the crowd. This has to be the most interactive Saints team ever. And while every team in any sport feeds off the home crowd, has there ever been more tangible evidence of its efficacy than the recent three triumphs in the Superdome? Has there ever been a crowd so happy just to be there? And has any team ever shown the love with such reciprocity?

--They aren't afraid to try new plays. Double reverses. Halfback passes. Special-team acrobatics. These are hardly new to pro football; but they are a welcome sight to Saints fans, whose eyes are scarred from years of run-up-the-middle. Even if New Orleans was 0-6 at this point, no one could say that it's been a boring ride.

--Most importantly, when they're down, they know how to get up. At times, these Saints remind us why they're the Saints. But the major difference with this group is that they learn from their mistakes. And most of all, they keep cool and rational in the process. That's why you have Reggie Bush's game-winning punt return against the Bucs. And why Brees and Joe Horn connected with the long ball against the Eagles at a moment when past squads would have hung it up.

Is there any better metaphor for life in New Orleans than the 2006 Saints? Not perfect, but well worth the rebuilding effort. And definitely worthy of the triumph and respect that's long been overdue.


Nick said...

You forgot the fact they got rid Aaron Brooks, Donte Stallworth and OC Mike McCarthy.

Brooks was not a leader and Stallworth would let a stubbed two keep him from playing for 6 weeks. Meanwhile, well, like you said, the offensive playcalling as gotten better.

oyster said...

"Is there any better metaphor for life in New Orleans than the 2006 Saints? "

I think it's the most hopeful metaphor. With 5 more Sean Paytons (distributed through the local and state government) New Orleans would not only quickly recover, but it would soon become the undisputed "Queen of the South" once again.

Homer said...

Ian...You are not right about anything...except that it is a great year to be a Saints Fan.

I would like to add to the tasty oyster...Great Metaphor indeed. Not only would more Sean Paytons help Louisiana but just maybe some Sean Paytons across the world could do some good. In fact, with Crazy Kim playing around with nukes, students being shot up everyday, and Osama still running around those hills...the only thing this world has to live for is the possibility of the Saints winning a Super Bowl...yes a Super Bowl. Then Crazy Kim could nuke the planet and I wouldn't care because the Saints and Louisiana would go out Victorious.

...Aren't we So Darn Lucky!