Thursday, January 21, 2010

How a midwest girl comes to love the Saints.

I'm not into professional sports. I am not into football. Never have been. I've never followed a team or "had" a team. I have never bought a thing with an NFL logo on it for myself (still haven't actually.)

I married someone who is a big football fan and for the first time in our 13 years together he is happy that I finally have a team and actually watch the games with him. My team is no surprise = the New Orleans Saints!

You might say I am jumping on a bandwagon. You might say I am only loving them because they are winning. I beg to differ.

I think it has been a slow growing attachment . . . An attachment based on my history with this city, the accessiblity of the team and what that team has done for this city since Katrina. (And ok that the owner is a 32 year old woman plays a minor part LOL!)

Yes, there is something happening in New Orleans, a strange and beautiful story not so much about a town that still needs distraction from a hurricane but about a professional sports team changing the nature of the relationship between franchise and fan. "It's the entire city," LeBlanc says as we drive. "Everybody feels it. It's not because we're selling it. Faith or fate, whatever you believe in, you cannot watch this football team and not have faith."

I've lived in Pittsburgh, PA for 6 years. And if you know Steeler fans then you know what I was exposed to there. I even worked for a media company so my access to games/athletes was a little better than the average person but even so it was only at a media event that you might get a handshake or a few words/facetime. There was a destinct seperation of player and fan.

Here, things are different. New Orleans is like living in a small town in a way. Our team is accessible. Hubby often sees Sean Payton at the post office. A good friend of mine lives in Payton's neighborhood which is right next to our school. A different coach's daughter played on my daughter's soccer team and when he could he would coach a game or two. A player was at a table near us at the iHop on Monday. He and wife must be regulars based on how the waitstaff was speaking with them. Many do business with the company I work for.

Their kids go to school with ours. They are part of us. They live among us and interact with us. And for some of us they are our friends . . .

The point, he says, is that the team is invested in the city -- not just at his restaurants but all over town. The players know that you get roast beef po-boys at Domilise's and that you get fried oyster po-boys at Parkway. They don't just take; they support those businesses that support them. Only in New Orleans is eating an unhealthy meal an act of civic duty. "We have little gems in this city," Besh says. "They've delved into it. They understand it. These guys have become part of the community."

( Ok. So I wouldn't call iHop a gem to delve into . . .)

I was here before Katrina. I was here after Katrina. The change in the atmosphere and spirit was incredible to say the least. It lingered. And it took time to heal. A long time for some . . . So to have this . . . this feeling of pride, excitement, joy, hope and for me a sense of recovery . . . that the bad time is over and we can move on . . . well, you can't help but fall in love with this team.

"The last four years have been very special in the city's attachment to the Saints," he told me. "I am not one to do a lot of reflecting back on Katrina, but there is clearly a line of demarcation there."

The Saints aren't encouraging people to rebuild, or providing comfort to a wounded city, or any of that. They are showing the world what has been rebuilt.

So did I jump on the bandwagon? In a way. I jumped on the bandwagon of wanting to share in this amazing spirit of love and faith in a team that has brought so much joy to the people around me. To see the happiness and excitement on people's faces.

A team that reflects the strength and resilience of a city that took a big hit physically and emotionally.

The game began and, less than two minutes in, the Saints blocked a punt and recovered for a touchdown. One of my best friends, a chef who grew up in the city, sat on his couch in Mississippi and wept. So did thousands of people in the Dome. For 37 seconds, an eternity on television, the announcers stayed quiet, the only noise coming from the screaming of the crowd. Thirty-seven seconds, while a city went completely and totally insane with joy.

The people in New Orleans would never forget who gave them that gift.

The above quotes were taken directly from this fabulous article about the Saints and New Orleans. IT IS A MUST READ even though it is long. Pull up your chair, a cup of tea and possibly a tissue to get a true sense of what it means to love New Orleans and the Saints!


Melissa said...

You always manage to make me miss that city more than I already do. :) So tempted to move back!

Filomena said...

You truly have a gift of writing. So well written...made me choke up. :) Thanks for sharing. Haven't visited in awhile...I hope you're well.