Sunday, February 07, 2010

Who dat.

I hate professional sports of all kinds. I hate that they pay their players exorbitant amounts of money to play a game, when people with real jobs that matter in the world get nothing. I hate the endorsements, the pomp and circumstance, the inundation of every medium for 20 weeks, and the way that I don't exist to my husband when the season starts. And I really hate that it takes place in winter, because I hate winter.

But, as you may have gathered from reading this blog, I love my city. I love the colorful history, the culture, the people, the architecture, the food, the life experiences, the costumes, the pomp, the circumstance, the sultry steaminess, the Siren's call...sure, there are things I hate, but this post is not for that.

I love when my grand old lady of a city is positively highlighted on a national or global front. It doesn't happen often, due to all of those things I don't care for about my city. And so when there's something that can elevate our reputation, well, I adore it.

And so, I love the Saints.

It was hard growing up. Saints games meant I couldn't ask friends to come play, because my dad was hitting the floor and saying words 7-year-olds shouldn't hear. There were mornings when I'd be woken up to him blaring his Who Dat 45 and "dancing" around the house. During a Saints game with a particularly bad outcome, my pregnant mom and I were in a car accident. He was so frustrated, between the game and the accident, that he threw the telephone and broke it.

My father is not a violent man. I was spanked once in my whole life. And I deserved it. He's actually an incredibly generous, kind-hearted, slightly grumpy, amazing person. His quirks prevent people from seeing this, but there's a reason why he's Stan the Man: because he simply IS.

But his Saints were hard to love. It took forever for them to get a winning season. It took longer to get to a playoff game, then to win one. After Katrina, they had an abysmal season and looked like they were going to San Antonio. This did nothing for my feelings about Texas. Or Saints owner Tom Benson. Or football. SO many other people had abandoned our city. Citizens, retailers, restaurateurs, the feds.... And then a miracle happened. We got to keep them. And we got Fujita. Brees. Colston. Bush... Mark scored free tickets to every home game that they won that year. I was there for all of them. Including when he scored tickets to the home opener in the Superdome after Katrina. I bawled walking in there. It was one of the first times I'd been downtown since I was taken out in rising floodwaters from the building next door. I'd watched the roof peel back and fly away during Katrina. It was physically difficult to be there. I bawled when proceedings began. I bawled when Green Day performed "Wake Me Up When September Ends," a song I haven't been able to hear since it ran through my head as I locked my door for the last time as we vertically evacuated. I bawled hysterically as U2 joined them and performed "The Saints Are Coming," especially when my Irish musical idol Bono said my drowned neighborhood's name. I kept bawling through U2's performance of "A Beautiful Day," because it truly, truly was. The national anthem didn't dry my eyes, and the opening kickoff, with all of that crowd noise....I ran out of Kleenex. When Steve Gleason blocked, man. Amazing. Then they won. And kept winning. When they finally made it to the NFC championship game, it was a brief moment where you could forget what we'd just been going through.

But then Bears fans yelled things at our Who Dat Nation, threw batteries wrapped in snow at them, and held signs that said, "Let's finish what Katrina started." Classless. Chicago, we will not forgive that. You performed penance by beating the Minnesota Brett Favres and solidifying our 1st place status, but you are not through yet. Don't feel too pleased with yourselves.

And then they lost. But our fans turned out in droves to welcome you home at the airport. It didn't really matter. Well, that's not entirely true.

We saw players come and go over the next few seasons, saw some hope, but lots of injuries. And then came this season. 13-0. A franchise first. Most wins ever, longest winning streak, black and gold fever. A pathetic home field loss to the Cowboys (DAMN YOU, TEXAS!!!!!!!!) followed by a heartbreaking home loss (at which I was a first home game losing experience since the Saints were blown away by the Colts at my first ever game in the earlier part of this century), and a game where we phoned it in because everything was locked up. Mauling the Cardinals, sending Kurt Warner to retirement. Beating the Vikings and seeing Favre on the ground over and over again, possibly sending him to his 44th retirement. And now, the Super Bowl. For the first time ever.

I have never watched a Super Bowl before. But that's because I hate football and it has never mattered to New Orleans before. And we'd be saying "Katrina who?" right now if the media would let us forget her, and if Colts fans would stop making Photoshopped pictures of Katrina satellite footage with horseshoes superimposed on them. Hey, we may make fun of how lame Indiana might be, but at least we aren't mocking something were thousands died, millions were displaced, a city was destroyed, and people lost everything they owned. You're about as classy as Chicago, and your quarterback is a normally beloved son. Not today. His high school alma mater even has decided to cheer against him. Today is the first day this city will cheer against a Manning in a Super Bowl. Sorry, Archie, Olivia, Cooper, Peyton, and Eli. We'll go back to loving you after tonight. If we lose, it may take a few days, but give it time. If we win, we'll love you instantly again.

But today, I am watching. I am excited. My mom is making drunken brisket, potato salad, and brownies from Thomas Morestead's mother's recipe. We're busting open the Dom Perignon her boss gave her at Christmas, win or lose. We're going out to the French Quarter, win or lose, to celebrate after the game. If it's possible, I'd like to be at the airport, win or lose, to greet them.

Schools and businesses are closing Monday. We had a black and gold day Friday at school. You could pay $2 for Haiti relief and wear clothes to support the Saints. The day ended with the seniors getting permission to play our unofficial state anthem, the Ying Yang Twins' "Halftime" over the intercom, then a few seniors second-lining down the hallway with decorated umbrellas, while chanting WHO DAT! All with the administration's blessing. I ended all of my classes on Friday with, "Ok, you're dismissed. Have a good day, a great weekend, stay safe, and enjoy the Super Bowl, the parades, and Monday. Geaux Saints, WHO DAT!" It was always answered by raucous cheering. We broke out black and gold pom poms from storage at school, from back when Reggie Bush used to support us financially and would visit. I have a ton in the back of my car, ready to hand out in the Quarter and to share with my parents tonight.

Years ago, local broadcast legend Buddy D. promised to wear a dress if the Saints ever made it to the Super Bowl. He died a few years ago and missed it. His successor, former Saints quarterback Bobby Hebert, carried out Buddy's promise, and thousands of men joined in the Buddy and Bobby's Brawds drag parade last weekend. This came on the heels of the whole state getting up in arms over a faulty claim by the NFL that they owned a public domain statement and the fleur de lis. That public domain statement? "Who dat?" Everyone came together in support, the NFL retracted their claims with watery excuses, and the Who Dat Nation triumphed.

Win or lose, there is a parade on Tuesday night for them. It's Carnival anyway, and many krewes have Saints themed floats. They're all donating their Saints floats to the cause. It's downtown, and a bunch of faculty members are leaving our cars at school, taking the streetcar downtown, and enjoying the evening together.

We can't wait.

And it's all because of how much we love our city.

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