Sunday, November 15, 2009
So Much More Than Just a Game
It's game day here in New Orleans. I realize that it's game day other places, too. I don't care about them. Our game days are special - especially this year. We are the home of the New Orleans Saints, perhaps the most maligned team in the entire NFL. And, today, we are undefeated, an indication that hell may very well be freezing over.
I was never a huge sports fan growing up. My dad could watch football anytime, anywhere. Sometimes I'd even catch him watching high school football when he couldn't find anything else. In my opinion, many a Thanksgiving was ruined by the blaring of some stupid game in the background. But the Saints were different.
Here in NOLA, we don't care about your hockey team, or your baseball team. We don't care who wins the World Series, and we don't really care about those guys who drive around in circles for hours on end. We care about basketball a bit more than we used to. That's been a sore spot ever since the Jazz ran off to Utah under cover of night all those years ago. Really, the Utah Jazz? There's a phrase that never has made much sense. But then the Hornets came to town and Chris Paul and David West and we thought we might could love us some basketball. This year, however, the Hornets may as well be playing in Timbuktu, because it's all about the Black and Gold.
The Saints started out playing in Tulane Stadium, and I remember going to those games with my Daddy. I must have been about 5 or 6 - small enough to ride in on his shoulders. I'd sit on the wooden bleachers and watch him have a few beers with his friends, trying to figure out when to cheer. I remember watching the Superdome being built - it was the biggest thing I'd ever seen at the time. I remember going there to see the Saints play for the first time. In high school my family had Saints season tickets and Tulane tickets. That meant we went to the Dome twice each weekend. We watched Tulane lose on Saturday, and then watched the Saints lose on Sunday. Those were the days of the people with bags over their heads, the 'Aints. Traitors, every last one of them!
But, you see, in New Orleans, we are a stubborn people. We are used to being a bit disappointed and still managing to smile. Katrina came. The levees broke. The Superdome became a symbol of something awful and tragic. Our Saints had to play in Baton Rouge and San Antonio. The players themselves had lost so much, and yet they still played - and lost. And, at the same time, people around the country had the audacity to suggest we were whiners because our city had been virtually washed away. Some even said we shouldn't rebuild at all - as though ours was a place that should just be shuffled off to anywhere else....
And then, something amazing happened. While we all worked on putting our lives back together, the Dome was being put back together again. And so was our team. And when that day came, when we all watched the Saints, the new and improved Saints, come into that Dome and kick Atlanta's butt - there wasn't a dry eye in town. It was about so much more than football.
We have a winning team. A group of overpaid men in tights who get the crud knocked out of them every weekend, and keep coming back for more. Players who make the news for good reasons, who believe in this town and actually do the right thing. They are fighters - just like the people who cheer them on every weekend. Many thought they were done - too wounded or washed up, not good enough. And many thought the same about this town. And they were wrong on both counts.
We have invested in this team - all of our heart and soul. We have been trying to show the rest of you that we are for real. We deserve respect. We are strong and resilient. We are proud to be from here. It is who we are. New Orleans is as much a part of us as we are a part of it. It means so much to this city - with its corrupt politicians, buffoon of a mayor, abandoned houses and pothole-filled streets - to have something we are proud of. Laugh at us for living below sea level, for getting nervous every time it rains, for being dependent on levees to keep us dry, for our ridiculous crime rate. But, if only for this season, respect us for our team and for all of us who have always BELIEVED.
It is, indeed, so much more than just a game.