On Monday, I sat down and tried to put into words what Sunday's Saints win did for the city of New Orleans. I've written many times in this blog about growing up in New Orleans, being a Saints fan, my love for the city and its pro teams, sleeping outside of the Superdome in 1987 for tickets to our first playoff game, etc...
I remember my uncles making a Joe Montana dartboard. I remember losing to the Falcons on a field goal after we were all sure the game was won. I remember Jeff Blake going down with an injury, opening the door for an untested quarterback named Aaron Brooks. I remember losing to the Rams in 1983 at the end of the game when we finally had a chance to make the playoffs. I remember being at a Monday night game in 1993 when Wade Wilson got hurt and some fans cheered. (Mora disapproves in this video I found.)
Mostly I remember every Sunday, if I couldn't go to the game, being at my grandmother's house with my parents and uncles and aunts... most of the time expecting the team to lose, but hoping and praying for a win.
And I know that most NOLA residents have many of these same memories. This story is about so much more than Hurricane Katrina, Sean Payton, Drew Brees and Reggie Bush. This story is just as much about Archie Manning, Bobby Hebert, Dalton Hilliard, Ironhead Heyward, Toi Cook, the Dome Patrol, Gumbo the Dog, the Benson Boogie, the Aints, Buddy Diliberto, and so much more... the stories that I could never tell completely because I don't have the time or the space.
On Monday I sat down and tried to put all of this into one nice little blog post. Of course that was impossible. So I went to my friends and relatives, the ones who have watched this team with me for the last 32 years (longer than that for many of them). I asked them to summarize what this victory meant to them and/or their city. I asked for a sentence, a paragraph, or an essay. Whatever they sent, I'd post.
So here are their words, combined with other quotes that some people have sent me from various sources. I'll also scatter in a few additional notes and interesting stories.
Thank you so much to those who participated!
So... what does this win mean?
"I never thought I'd see the Saints go to the Super Bowl in my lifetime.... and yet, here they are.
There are, I'm sure, lots that will be said about politics, economics, and all sorts of other high brow reasons that this Super Bowl will 'save' New Orleans, but the truth is we're just so happy to NOT be the Aints anymore that's all that counts. After years of being at the top of the murder rate in the Nation, having politicians who don't care about their citizens, embezzlement, and being known for the smell of the streets and nude breasts, it's good to finally have something positive to say about New Orleans (or the State of Louisiana) for a change even if it is only football. For that alone I thank the Saints!! Who Dat?!!"
"It means we ain't done yet. Who Dat!"
"Pigs are flying. Hell has frozen over. The Saints are going to the super Bowl." -- Jim Henderson WWL radio.
"The NOPD has reported that overall crime is down dramatically this year, and almost non-existent on days when the Saints play. Last night, there was not a single violent crime in the city of New Orleans, and that includes after the game was over and the 'crazy celebration' had commenced."
"This means there is hope for all to all New Orleaneans. To me personally, this means I was right. It also means that we have a respectable team for once. FAITH played a big part in it. Faith in the team, faith in the fans. It shows perseverance."
[Note: Wedge sent me this great article about a judge delaying a trial due to "Saintsmania."]
"I've been a Saints fan since their inception in 1967. I was 9 years old. I got my first chance to go to a game in old Tulane Stadium, 2 years later. I was amazed at what I was seeing, hearing and feeling. Of course, we lost by about 28, but that didn't matter. I was lucky enough to be in attendance when Tom Dempsey set the NFL record with a 63 yd. field goal to beat the Lions in 1970. That was the highlight of our season, we probably won 3 or 4 games that year. We have stuck by our Team through good times and bad. We would say we're giving up on them, but the next week we couldn't wait for Sunday to get here. It's always been a love / hate / love relationship, much more love than hate. We hated losing.
In 1987 we finally turned the corner and made the playoffs`after 20 years`of existence. Yep, we got beat by 24 by the Vikings, but we were the happiest campers on Earth. These past few years under Sean Payton have instilled so much pride and confidence that now we feel we cannot be beat. This is only the beginning, and man does it feel so goood. Who Dat baby, Who Dat say they gonna beat them Saints."
"This stadium used to have holes in it and used to be wet. It aint wet anymore." - Sean Payton
"I can remember being at the 2005 season opener a few days before Katrina, totally surrounded by empty seats. It emptied out even more as the game progressed. There were no paper bags involved, but that was the sentiment that day. The critics and the believers, all a little tired, but they go or they watch. Obviously a lot has happened in the Dome and to us and the team between that game and this season's opener, but this time around, the sentiment was about as opposite as it could be. There was so much excitement in the air. Every game brought the city closer to this fever pitch until that championship-winning kick that sent everyone into an all-out frenzy. I've never witnessed so much stranger love, given so many high-fives, and been a part of such an increible outpouring of crazed joy than I did downtown that night. I'm so glad to have been in New Orleans to be a part of it. If anybody deserves to go to the big game, we do. I'm still in blissful shock that it's finally happened.
And I'm not going to lie... I cried."
"Time stood still. It seemed like you could hear a pin drop. 70,000 people in the dome held their breath. The kick was good, and a collective sigh of relief could be heard throughout the city, the state and beyond. It was a moment to relish. I immediately donned the red dress I'd been saving for this occasion and wore it on our walk out of the Superdome, down Poydras St. to the parking garage. No explanation, was required. I was given thumbs up and pats on the back and Who Dat's were exclaimed. Buddy D. can truly rest in peace."
(Buddy D. photo from nola.com)
Interesting: New Orleans Archdiocese Patriarch To Travel To Miami For Super Bowl
"Pretty revitializing to the city and surrounding areas, the whole place partied long into the night after the game AND there wasn't one criminal incident! Pretty amazing."
"I have never seen so many grown men cry... awesome. WHO DAT!"
[Note: The following words are from own Furious Deuce. I think he did a great job.]
The outcome of the NFC Championship game and a berth to Superbowl XLIV weighed heavily on the result of a coin flip. Many football fans and NCAA apologists criticize the NFL's overtime policy. Plenty of fans feel both teams should be granted at least one possession. More feel that a coin toss is a disparaging way to decidedly favor one team over the other in such hard fought games. Normally I would tend to agree that these disgruntled folks make a more than valid point. But not in this instance. Not for this game.
"This was more than just a football game." By now, that statement is cliché'. You've probably read it over and over again in game recaps and news articles that blend the Saints, the city of New Orleans, and Hurricane Katrina into one big pitiful, emotional pot of gumbo. It is cliché', but it's true. It's hard for outsiders to understand, so I'll try my best to describe why a catastrophe that occurred almost half a decade ago still plays such a huge factor on this city and this team.
What you may not have realized from watching all those news reports was that it wasn't just the Superdome and Bourbon Street that was affected by the hurricane. The surrounding parishes (or counties, as you may know them) are littered with family based communities. Families so big and sprawling that no matter where you'd go, you were never more than an ear shot away from hearing a familiar voice. The term "family" in our area may have a different meaning than the one you are familiar with. We have "uncles," "aunties," and "cousins" that are no more blood related than you and I. They may be an old schoolmate your father grew up with and remains close to. They may be a hairdresser your mother has visited since before you were born. They may be a best friend that you've shared every life experience with, both good and bad. No matter the circumstance, they are "family" and we love them no less than we do those that share our bloodlines. These "families" don't leave New Orleans and if they do, New Orleans never really leaves them. On August 29, 2005, we were forced to leave New Orleans. The Saints were forced to leave New Orleans.
The Louisiana Superdome, used to holding 70,000 raucous and sometimes inebriated footballs fans, quickly became refuge for downtrodden citizens who had no where else to turn. The site that served as host to Super Bowls, Sugar Bowls, and the Rolling Stones, now served as a hotel, a hospital, and a morgue. The Superdome's iconic exterior was not untouched by the storm. It too suffered damage like nearly all of the homes and businesses nearby. There would be no football in New Orleans. Not that year. Maybe never again.
On August 25th, 2006, it was announced to the world..."The SAINTS are coming!" Never was there a more perfect song to capture such a powerful, emotional moment. It's as if The Skids delivered this song to us through the rain and wind, crashing through a breached levee, over the rooftops of soggy homes and into Bono's microphone itself; a gift we so desperately needed. That was more than a football game too, it was a distraction. It was a beacon of hope. It was a message. It was just the beginning. The Saints returned to the city of New Orleans. People followed. Families followed.
The Saints are the one common relative. They are what bind us. We've supported them whole-heartedly over the past 43 years, even if we were ashamed to do so at times. Now, we lean on them. They carry the burden of an entire region's pain, memories, hopes, and dreams upon their shoulders. It's been 4 1/2 years since Hurricane Katrina but no one has forgotten. That was until Garret Hartley kicked a 40-yard field goal in overtime of the NFC Championship game sending the Saints to the Superbowl. For a split second, everyone forgot, and the screams and cheers could be heard in the heavens above. The same heavens that once unleashed hell on this city. But only for a second, then the tears streamed down cheeks of old men. Season ticket holders, neighbors inside the Dome, pushed aside a handshake in favor of an ecstatic embrace and we all remembered. We remembered that this wasn't supposed to happen and we remember now why it feels so surreal.
To get back to the point it seems like I started to make 4 1/2 years ago, there was no more fitting way for this game to end. The Minnesota Vikings were but a mere 5 yards and a field goal away from victory but the "grizzled, gusty" veteran, Brett Favre returned to his gunslinger ways, throwing the ball across his body, only to be intercepted by the Saints Tracy Porter with mere seconds remaining in regulation, sending the game into overtime. With the way both offenses were marching up and down the field, it seemed inevitable that whatever team would win the coin toss would most certainly win this game. So as the coin fluttered and spun through the air, 71,276 collective breaths were held, until it landed "tails" and the Saints took the ball. Fate. Fitting.
While many people don't believe this, I can remember watching my first Saints game at the age of three. I don't remember too many details from the early years of my favorite team, but I watched, and watched, and watched, as the years would pass, learning the names of Billy Kilmer, John Gilliam, Steve Stonebreaker, Danny Abramowicz, and many others. I even knew the name and face of Tom Fears at the earliest ages. I began noticing that because this game had come to my city, I had become a person like (what appeared to me to be) people around the rest of the world. A football fan.
And as I aged, I learned to enjoy the National Football League as a regular Sunday event. While many waited all week for American Bandstand, I waited (during the season) for every football game I could watch. Especially when the New Orleans Saints played. Win or Lose (and it was mostly lose) I remained frozen to the T.V. screen, or glued to my seats in the stands for home games.
After the completion of the Superdome, I thought it to be ridiculous that games would be played always indoors and on "plastic" grass. By watching the construction as it went on with all the steel beams everywhere, it appeared there would be no room for people to sit. I suppose from my perspective, I couldn't grasp the shear magnitude of what the Dome really was going to be. What's more, after its completion, I had never attended a Saints home game in the Dome before my first visit within its walls. Oddly enough I first entered the completed Dome as a performer for a New Orleans Jazz pre-game event in 1975 (I think).
I walked into the Dome through the Poydras Street ground entrance. I remember looking up and, because of my unending fear of heights and a tendency towards vertigo, from the floor the sight of the top seats was dizzying. But oddly enough I knew then, despite my aversion to the location, exactly where I wanted to be for the very next Saints Game. Somewhere up in the high seats with a perfect overview of the game. As though I would be watching an outdoor game from the Goodyear Blimp. And so I made it my plan, my quest, my mania.
So from that year forward, I was no longer just another fan, but THE ultimate Saints Fan, bleeding black and gold when they lost, but soaking it in it when they won. And after the 1-15 season and the "Aints" the "Unknown Saints Fan" (the bags on the heads) I was cut to the core. I realized that I was amongst but a handful of TRUE fans that would be there through the good and the bad. The good being Archie Manning for about 10 years. The bad being the organization itself. And as I grew up I learned, all "good" things must come to an end... but the "bad" things may go on indefinitely. And so Archie was traded (in effect just put out to pasture to breed the next generation of superstars). And the organization grew no more functional than before. But I hung firm, as the self-proclaimed #1 Saints Fan, wearing a worn-out football helmet for every game, and learning my very first expletives (required of all fans) to enhance the commentary of the professionals on television.
And finally, just after the birth of "The Dive Bombers" (my newly formed cheering crew), once in 1986, and again in 1990, and 92 (Jackson, Johnson, Mills, Swilling all go to the Pro Bowl that season), and 98 and 99, and 2000, 2001, 2003, there were glimmers of hope and even some playoff berths, some Division Championships and even a playoff win. But some thought we were being teased. I even heard the words "The same old Saints" uttered from the lips of some fair-weathered fans. But I never stopped believing. And never would. I brought brothers, sister, nephews, children, nieces, and even pets into the revelry that came every weekend, or primetime night of the NFL season. I taught them to "hate" the Falcons for all times, except that one year we loved them so much, and to never give up hope on the team, regardless of what you think of the current players, coaches, or management.
And so we did. And in 2006 Sean Payton was hired, and almost poetically chose as his Brigadier, a man named "Brees." As though a "wind" of change was coming so was this leader of men, is what Sean Payton seemed to be saying with the decision. But it was not without adversity. Hurricane Katrina wiped out any hopes of a NORMAL new beginning, so this new team of warriors had to work from without the organization rather than from within. And even after displacement of many of our Dive Bomber crew we remained loyal to the cause. The draft gave us hope: Reggie Bush #1 and Marcus Colston, #... well it's too big of a number to matter I guess. But we were on the right path and we knew it, all the way until the very moment that Hartley made that kick this year.
Not too coincidentally, I talked to Tom Dempsey on January 22nd, the Friday evening before the game and discussed the abilities of the Saints' young Kicker, he seemed more confident than I, but then he's a professional... and so the time did come when this 23 year-old, skater-punk-looking, place kicker named Garrett Hartley would have an opportunity to win the Saints' biggest game ever. At that very moment, as Mark Brunell kneeled at the spot Hartley had pointed to on the Right Hash-Mark, 40 yards away from winning the NFC Championship, I remembered Tom's encouraging thoughts and I watched, my knees buckling under weakening blood flow throughout my body (I swear my heart did not beat for a second or two). And then I heard the connection of foot to ball, and I knew it was struck true. I knew the kick was good and that "WE" were going to the Superbowl. I noticed that my older brother had already donned a red dress, Bomber Boy was hugging some extremely overweight woman of African American descent, and the Bomberettes were raising their fists (which clutched a rosary bead by the way) in triumph. And Captain Dive Bomber removed his mask and revealed his true identity (He told everyone in 2006 that he would do so when we went to the Superbowl).
So I know the question is, "What does this means to you personally or for New Orleans, in your opinion?" But I don't know how else to describe it other than to tell you my story as a Saints fan. The City of New Orleans needed it, I personally needed it, and I am so proud of those who made it happen.
Here are a few personal bits of information I learned that make this going to the Superbowl thing even more special. Consider if you will:
This is Superbowl XLIV (That's 44 for you Vikings Fans,)
1. Dave Waymer was one of my favorite Saints Players of all times. He died reportedly of a cocaine induced heart attack in 1993. I knew him personally in the old days, before he left for San Francisco, and always enjoyed his company when I could meet with him away from media frenzy. He always hoped to stay in New Orleans, but was released in the beginning of the 1990's when he went to San Francisco. His Jersey number here was #44
2. Although the Saints have been playing for 43 years, this 2010 season will mark the beginning of their 44th year.
3. I am 44 years old. (Just Kidding, I'm 46) but that would have been cool.
4. There currently is no active Saint wearing the number 44 (although it is the Jersey Number of Heath Evans who is on injured reserve).
5. Barack Obama is the 44th President of the United States (openly pulling for the underdog).
6. Since I am writing, I'll draw your attention to the fact that I have no idea why I think 44 is so fascinating, but I recall a publication of Mark Twain manuscripts titled, "No. 44, The Mysterious Stranger" in which there is no explanation for the number/name really.
7. This last thing is possibly the most interesting of all. And although I talked to Tom Dempsey Friday, and again Monday after the game, I did not learn this fact until today as I had a conversation with his wife, Carlene. How old was Tom Dempsey when he kicked the most memorable field goal in Saints history (yes the 63 yard game winner)? 23 years old. And although Hartley's game winner was only 40 yards, it certainly may overtake Tom's record setter, as the most important, if not most memorable.