Held captive in a meeting that lasted all of Sunday afternoon, I missed the 3 p.m. kickoff. After I was released, I gripped my New Orleans Saints cap — I’d been carrying it with me all day — and bolted to the nearest television set. As I passed along the path that runs between JE and Branford, someone, presumably after seeing my cap and witnessing my maniacal run through campus, yelled out “Good luck!” In that instant, I was filled with an incredible, unexpected sense of pride. I realized that even in the face of New England’s mid-winter grimace, I wasn’t about to battle alone.
There are twenty Yale College students from the New Orleans area. All of us are Saints fans. We have no choice in the matter. For us, “Who Dat?” is not a question so much as it is an anthem. We’ve grown up hating Tom Benson, loving the Dome and hanging fleur-de-lys ornaments wherever and whenever possible. And no matter how many dozens of times and in how many devastating ways we lose, each and every defeat is another crushing blow to the ego. Somehow, we always think we’re the best. Of other NFL teams, I neither know nor do I care. The Saints make you love football even when you don’t really want to.
This season was particularly spectacular for a number of not-so-spectacular reasons: new coach, better players. Eureka! And after all these years, this simple solution is what has finally allowed us to get it right! With Deuce, Bush, Brees and Sean Payton at the helm, we were unstoppable. Finally, some good news.
I heard a song on the radio before I left for New Haven. It goes something like this: “New Orleans Saints, number one on the field / Katrina couldn’t stop us and that’s real / Beating these teams ain’t no big deal / big deal / big — /this is the way it is.” In the weeks leading up to the Superbowl playoffs, the spirit of New Orleans grew exponentially and the city’s inhabitants celebrated like I hadn’t seen them do since before Katrina.
Weakened initially by the storm, and recently hurt more by the series of murders that earned the city the label of the most dangerous in the country, New Orleans continues to dream. We live our day-to-day lives in the “What if?” and we’ve brought a whole lot of you to our side. And when everything looked as though it were falling apart in our hands, well, at least we had the Saints.
But Sunday’s game came and went and the fact of the matter is that the Saints have lost. And the timing couldn’t be worse. I blame it on the snow and I’m not ashamed to say it. There aren’t any folks from New Orleans who function well in the snow. I’m just saying we’re not bred that way. We like our weather like we like our po-boys: steamy ’n’ hot.
But besides all the glory of their playoff run, I’ve seen something more important come from the 2006-’07 Saints season. I watched the NFC Championship game from my dorm in Timothy Dwight. With me were my close friends — two Canadians and a Midwesterner — and all were cheering on the Saints, at least for today. The Saints have an underdog appeal like no other team in the NFL.
The entire story of the New Orleans Saints is one of struggle. In light of recent events, yes, we have received increased attention; but even before Katrina, the team based out of New Orleans had floundered for several decades. Some say the Superdome was built over an old Indian graveyard, and that’s why we never win, but what do I know? Finally, in 2006, we gained the recognition and respect that we not only craved but deserved. It was no longer foolish to cheer on the Saints, but understandable. Everyone became a Saints fan, whether you liked it or not.
National sports, particularly football, have the ability to unite even the most polar opposites of fans. Everyone has their team to defend, but at the end of the day we all recognize that we’ve come for the sport itself — wins and losses don’t mean much if we’re just going to play the game again next year.
I scheduled a flight back to New Haven via Philadelphia on the Sunday after the Eagles-Saints game on Jan. 13. I remember telling myself that if we won against Philadelphia — which would be our first-ever playoff victory — I would fly home in Saints gear. Evidently, I wasn’t the only one who made that promise. The airport, like the travelers, bled black and gold. I wore a cap and fleur-de-lys beads. Dejected Eagles fans wore their colors too, in far fewer numbers. I remember overhearing the exchange of congratulations, out-of-town folks laughing with the rest of us. Even in Philadelphia, when I rode the shuttle bus from terminal B to F still clad in my colors, people would look at me and smile. Somehow, the very fact that we both watched last night’s game united us in a common social fabric.
Of course, I am unhappy to say that the Saints didn’t beat the Bears on Sunday. But in this age of uncertainty, I am relieved to see that we can always leave our troubles behind and talk about the Super Bowl.
Charles Gariepy is a sophomore in Timothy Dwight College.