First of all, let it be known that I care little for, or about, football. I have a scattered and generally ambivalent relationship to the sport: growing up in Central Florida, we watched our share of Dolphins' games--Marino was in his prime back then, so it was fun in a look-at-him-go sort of way--at home, while at my grandmother's house, where everyone hailed from Chicago, we rooted for the Bears. After my mom graduated from FSU we cheered on the Seminoles, and there were some moments, years later, living in Gainesville, where I experienced small, silent spurts of inexplicable happiness as I sat in faceless, featureless bar-and-grills and watched the Noles beat up on the Gators. But really, I was no great fan; one of the major factors in my decision to go to New College was it's lack of organized sports--or more specifically, the fact that it didn't have a football team. I had seen enough of the ugliness the game seemed to provoke (someone always died after the FSU-UF game), I wanted nothing to do with the seemingly pointless group-think, the shirtless screaming, the endless, inscrutable statistics.
So. Anyway. What was I saying?
Oh yeah: I don't give a crap about football. I guess that still holds true, in the strictest sense, though last night I cared, a lot, about what was happening on the field. I knew every player's number, their position, their strengths and weaknesses*, I found myself shouting about third-down conversions and bad calls and oh my god, I was singing that Favre-on-the-ground song and I meant it, I did, I wanted to see him writhing on the mother-fucking ground, until WHOA, he was actually writhing on the ground, at which point I felt bad for wishing him ill, but still. The point is: I cared, for the first time, about football. I have cared for a while now, though not nearly as long as some people in this town, but long enough to get it, to understand what drives this crazy, fanatical, heart-bursting-through-the-ribcage love--LOVE!--we have for our Saints.
A lot has been written and said about this team, what it means to this city and vice versa, and I'm sure a lot more will be written and said in the next couple of weeks. But I wonder: if you don't live here, can you really get it? Because this video is so beautiful, and so true, and while I'm sure people watching it in other places--some of them--will shake their heads in wonder and maybe wipe a tear from their eye, do they really know? I don't think so. Because if they knew, they would live here. They would uproot their families and take a big paycut and maybe home-school their kids and they would move here, they would be here--they would, if they really got it. Like John Besh says in that wonderful video--something I've been trying, unsuccessfully, to articulate for years now: "New Orleans doesn't have a place for people that are lukewarm. You're either with us or you're against us."
Our team, this team, is about so much more than football. When Drew Brees played for San Diego, I'm sure it was all about football--about the money, the game, the fame and maybe the titles. When Payton coached the Giants and the Cowboys, it was probably all about football--the money, the wins, the stats, the titles. And don't get me wrong: it's still about that, it's always about that, but here, in our town, it's about so much more. It's about synergy, about underdogs, about being the hated ones, the ones left behind, left for dead, left to pick up the remains of their shattered lives and put it all back together, piece by piece, tile by tile, play by play, win by win. They are a team of NFL orphans; we are a city orphaned by it's government, its countrymen, left to fight our way back, on our own. When the Saints claw their way to victory, we can relate; we all know by now what that feels like, what it's like to sling a sledgehammer against the rotted walls of your own home, or to shovel debris from your neighbors'--and when the Saints soar, when those passes soar down the field and seem to nestle right into the hands of whatever receiver they happen to pick for that particular play, we can relate to that too--we know what it's like to second line, to dance in the streets, to celebrate life, to soar.
So, can we beat the Colts in the Superbowl? Does it really matter? Well, okay, of course it matters--we'd be kidding ourselves if we said it didn't--but at the end of the game, after the clock runs out and the coaches shake hands and the winners mount the podium and the losers trudge back to the locker room, our Boys will get to come home, they'll get to come here, to the greatest city in the world, where we'll all be waiting with wide open arms and huge-ass beers and more gratitude than can ever be expressed in words. No matter what the outcome, they are us, we are them, and when Drew Brees rides as Bacchus, you better believe we're all going to be bringing the love. No matter what. And what will they get in Indy? A couple of parades and a pat on the back? It just simply does not compare.
Saturday afternoon, the day before the game, I went for a run; about halfway through the 5-miler I stopped, sat down on the sidewalk, and put my head in my hands, overcome with emotion. A man strolled by, walking his dog--both were dressed in Saints attire--and he stopped to ask if I was alright.
I sniffled. "I'm just thinking about the game."
The poor man seemed at a loss; in a reassuring tone he said, "But I really do think we're going to win."
That was it; I totally lost it. "I know," I sobbed. "That's why I'm crying."
This city has taught me so much, so much about myself, about perseverance, about community and sacrifice and fear and hope. And I'll be damned if it hasn't taught me about football, about how a team--not just any team, but a truly special team--can bring a generally sane person, someone not given to public displays of emotion, to her knees on a random sidewalk, wailing to a stranger in a Saints jersey.
Strange and beautiful days, indeed.
* Like, why the fuck do they keep handing the ball back to Bush? Am I missing something??