The Importance of Being a Saints fan in New Orleans
People in New Orleans have survived some real tough times. Some utterly devastating ordeals. Together. And it has bonded us. We have a real sense of community through shared experience. We also have certain common interests. There are few things that can cross all racial and economic boundaries-- that everyone can be a part of, regardless of the curliness of your hair, where you go to church or how fancy your car is. Several of which happen to be in New Orleans: Mardi Gras, crawfish boils, our fondness of and talent for partying, and our unconditional, often painful, against-all-odds, undying and obsessive love of the Saints.
When I moved to New Orleans, I hardly knew what a “Who Dat” was, and I was certainly not a football fan. Far from it. I had to be bribed with snacks and adult beverages to even approach the vicinity of a football game, let alone to sit and watch one. But there were TV’s at work, and I found myself looking up at them… more and more frequently. Before I knew it—gasp—I actually started to care. It’s easy to get caught up when everyone around you is fanatically cheering for something. So before I knew it, I was a hardcore Saints fan. I purchased every possible black and gold item imaginable, covering myself from headband to rainboots in as many of them as I could every game day. Life suddenly revolved around football, including choosing the appropriate game-watching attire, the right bar with the best TV’s, and the proper refreshments to accompany the big event.
I was converted. I had become a football-watching, black-and-gold-wearing, crying-in-my-daiquiri-when-they-lost, stranger-hugging-when they-won, all-out Who Dat. I should mention, grew up watching football against my will. I slept in the stands at the Rose Bowl. Twice. But now I actually sought out the games, and cared about a football team. How did this happen? It’s hard not to be a Saints fan here. It’s such an ingrained part of our culture, it gets into your blood. As a new kid in town, being a fan felt like a way for me to integrate myself into local life: an initiation, a way to live like a native. When in New Orleans, do as the Who Dats do. All while being a part of something big and important. Because anyone who loves New Orleans, loves the Saints as well.
But why is that, exactly?
I’ve heard every reason in the book: Because of Drew Brees. Because they’re the home team. Because it’s fun to go to games and drink beer. Because red and black is just tacky.
But it’s so much more than that. It’s a deep-seated thing that comes from living in New Orleans. Maybe they put something in the water. Al D’aquin, one of the many Saints “superfans”, said it best: “It's always amazed me that something as simple as a football game could bring a city together like it did. We've always been that way about everything. Look at our food. Look at our culture. Our partying is far above anybody else's in the country. Our food is over the top. Anything we wrap our arms around we go above and beyond. It's the same with the Saints."
Take, for instance, what the Saints did for New Orleans after Katrina. They were the very embodiment of survival and resilience. They encouraged revival and recovery, and proved that no one was gonna keep New Orleans—or their beloved Saints-- down. That first game in the Superdome post-Katrina is probably one of our city’s greatest moments. Everyone rallied together: Over 70,000 fans filled the Dome to capacity, and folks in nearly 11 million homes tuned in to TV sets around the country. The game was ESPN’s highest-rated program ever. It didn’t hurt that the Saints whooped the Atlanta falcons with a blow-out score of 23 to 3. New Orleans was back!
On a similar note, we’re all Saints fans out of an undying human need for hope. Even in our darkest hour—or the most doomed Saints season—we still have hope. If hope springs eternal, here in New Orleans, hope is overflowing the levees. Everyone needs something to believe in. We’ve got to put our faith in something: Santa Claus? Bigfoot? Scientology? Obamacare? The Saints are going to the Super Bowl!
No really, this time for sure.
This year will be different.
Yes, Saints fans are nothing if not blindly optimistic. And hopelessly loyal. They proudly and unwaveringly back their team. For better or worse. And unfortunately, historically speaking, there’s been plenty of the worst.
We’re all Saints fans out of an undying human need for hope.
The Saints team played (and lost) their first game ever in 1967. It had been announced on November 1, 1966, that the city of New Orleans was being given an NFL franchise. The announcement fell on All Saints Day, and there are a whole lotta Catholics in the city. Not to mention, New Orleans has a longstanding connection to the iconic jazz song “When the Saints Go Marching In”. Therefore, the team became the Saints. John W. Mecon, Jr., a big-wig from Texas, backed the team financially. Because Mecon had made his millions from investing in oil, aka “black gold,” the Saints’ team colors became, appropriately, black and gold.
The first two decades of their existence, the Saints, frankly, pretty much sucked. They were on a twenty-year losing streak, never even finishing at .500 until 1987. This same year was also the first time they had a winning season or made it to the playoffs. In 1980, one of the team’s most notoriously bad seasons ever, the Saints lost their first fourteen games, barely squeaking out a one-point win in the fifteenth and final game. This led the fans, still devoted but disillusioned, to wear paper bags over their heads in shame. Not for nothing, it was this year that the Saints were bitterly nicknamed the “Aints”. There’s even a story that when the archbishop of New Orleans gave his devout seal of approval for the team to be called the Saints, it was in part because he’d heard it from the very top that they would need all the help they could get.
The Saints have come a long way since then, whether that’s thanks to divine intervention or Drew Brees (though most Brees worshippers would have you believe that’s really one and the same). They’ve set all kinds of NFL records, and won playoff games and division titles. They even won the Superbowl once! (Have you heard?) The Saints have become a team to be reckoned with, which keeps our hopes up for a winning season-- that eternal black and gold carrot dangling in front of the noses of fans.
The Saints are going to the Super Bowl this year!
Despite many great years and a now talented roster, the Saints are still not an easy team to watch play. It’s hard to sit through a game without nail-biting and nausea, or throwing beer cans at the TV. They lose 14-point leads. They fall three touchdowns behind in the first quarter. They rarely seem to get going until the second half. Are we all just gluttons for punishment?
Maybe. But whatever they do, the Saints have a way of bringing everyone together. In a town with so much diversity, controversy and differing outlooks, the Saints are one thing we can all agree on. When they lose, we turn to each other for comfort. And we let a lot slide. Boss is cranky? The driver next to you flipped you off? It’s okay, they get a pass this time. The Saints lost and we’re all pissed. On the other hand, after a big win, we all celebrate together. The collective mood is improved for days, and New Orleans becomes the perkiest town in the country. We may argue about where to get the best gumbo, which is the best school in town or whether or not to build a Habana Outpost in the Quarter. But one thing no one would ever dare to contradict:
The Saints are going to the Super Bowl! This year for sure.