Those who know me know exactly what I’m geeked out about right now.
For years, I have been a fan of the New Orleans Saints. Tonight, the Saints became super by upsetting the Indianapolis Colts 31-17 in Super Bowl 44.
Let’s get one thing out of the way: Though I was born in New Orleans, I had the South kicked out of me at an early age: My family moved to New Jersey when I was 3 years old. Hurricane Katrina had only a spiritual impact on me. I hated seeing my birth city underwater — the hospital where I was born was flooded — but I had no family and only one or two friends living there when Katrina hit. My story is much more geeky, and not at all heartbreaking.
Throughout childhood, my dad and I always rooted for the Saints. Living near the Giants and Jets, we just couldn’t latch on to them. It was our thing to root for the Saints.
When I was in first grade, we got a chance to draw anything we wanted during the day. I always drew fleur-de-lis and Saints helmets. My mom usually got me the box of 24 Crayolas, and the closest color it had to gold was goldenrod. Not the same. But those rare moments when she’d bust out and buy the box of 64 (with built-in sharpener), I wore that metallic gold crayon to a nub in minutes.
I remember watching Monday Night Football that year with Dad as the Saints hosted the Oakland Raiders. The Saints had a three- or four-touchdown lead at halftime, which happened to be bedtime. I went to bed with visions of a Saints win, then woke up to find that they lost 42-35. That was good training at dealing with disappointment, but I’ve hated the Raiders ever since.
In second grade, I asked Santa for a Saints helment and jersey. That was when Roger Staubach of the Cowboys was popular. Christmas came, and I saw a present that sure looked like a football helmet underneath the wrapping paper. It was — a Cowboys helmet, with a Roger Staubach jersey. I wore it and played in it, but I’ve hated the Cowboys ever since.
In high school, the Saints were becoming known for its legendary Dome Patrol. Finally, I could be proud of being a Saints fan. But it didn’t last long… they kept on tanking in the playoffs.
In the year 2000, I was working for 417 Magazine. We had done a cover story about football fans, and I was featured as a Saints fan. I wrote about how it was to be a tortured fan; Editor Mike Wingo took a great picture of me with a Saints sweatshirt on and a sack on my head.
In 2005, Katrina hit. The team was in shambles and, coincidentally, so was my life. A marriage had fallen apart from under me, a publication that I poured my heart into changed drastically and I had a sense that I had to get out of town, start fresh and leave everything behind. I actually had a notion to move to New Orleans (I’m glad I didn’t — things worked out pretty well, as you’ll read soon).
As the Saints rebounded in 2006, so did my life. Found the woman of my dreams, got a better job with The Joplin Globe. The long drive to the new job let me listen to sports talk radio and talk up the Saints. I watched the legendary Superdome return game from the newsroom. Better yet, the woman of my dreams would eventually become my wife, and she and one of my new stepsons would become Saints fans.
Two weeks ago, I watched the culmination of a 13-3 regular season into a Super Bowl trip. I watched the NFC championship game from the newsroom. After the game, my wife and stepkid drove to the Globe’s parking lot, where we hooted, hollered and screamed the Who Dat chant.
I’ve endured jabs, barbs, mocking and more. I can’t really describe why I love the Saints so much. I think the sight of that fleur-de-lis is ingrained in my memory as a powerful symbol. The power of symbols is legendary — the feeling of pride that some get from looking at a cross or American flag is what I get when I see the mark of New Orleans.
So when Tracy Porter returned that interception for a touchdown, giving the Saints a two-score lead with about 3 minutes to go, I screamed. Loudly. When the Colts’ final drive sputtered and Brees took a knee, I hugged my family and cried. My stepkid and I ran outside and yelled the Who Dat chant at the top of our lungs. I watched Sportscenter highlights until midnight.
As incredible as I feel, I can only imagine how my fellow Who Dats in the Crescent City feel. Especially those who still experience the ravages of Hurricane Katrina. As much as this win means to me, I can’t fathom what it means to them.
A final note: Dad and my stepmom watched the game from a hotel in Puerto Rico. They are on a vacation. I wish I could have watched this game with him, and I missed him throughout the game — especially the ensuing celebration. But I did get to talk with him and celebrate — I had him on speakerphone while I screamed outside. My dad taught me the true meaning of loyalty, thanks to our devotion to the Saints. It’s an important lesson that has applied to so much in my life. Only now do I realize loyalty’s true reward. Thanks, Dad.