The Saints want to be your new (football) gods

Who dat? It’s New Orleans, making a run at becoming America’s new favorite team

When Spike Lee (ambassador for New York’s Bedford Stuyvesant), Bono (from Ireland, but tied up in talking African debt relief), that Green Day guy with the perpetually bad hair (from northern California), and Snoop Dogg (the L.B.C — the “c” stands for “crips” or “California”) join former President George H.W. Bush (from Massachusetts, people!), Avery Johnson, and a sellout crowd of 70,003 in the Louisiana Superdome, you know you’re witnessing an historic coming-together of an unlikely cast of people, and an outpouring of support that almost erases the memories of the grim events that took place just 13 months earlier under the weather-beaten 9.7-acre roof at 1 Sugar Bowl Drive.

The New Orleans Saints’ home opener on Monday night was a redemption game. For, among others, Saints quarterback Drew Brees — an Austin native who left the San Diego Chargers as a free agent with hard feelings and holdover injuries from the 2005 season closer and signed with the Saints in March 2006.

Like Ringo on the drums, Brees put in a solid, journeyman performance, throwing 20 of 28 for 191 yards to beat the Saints’ archrivals, the Atlanta Falcons, 23-3.

There is one question that lingers about the rout ( called it a “plucking”): Why did an otherwise reliable and speedy Falcons offense crumble, managing to get only Morten Andersen’s 26-yard field goal on the board? Let’s rule out voodoo, and anything like the Black Sox Scandal (the NFL did donate $15 million toward Superdome repairs, and the camera did cut to plenty of old suits dancing in the skyboxes, even after flag-football plays like Brees handing the ball off to rookie Reggie Bush, who then handed off to receiver Devery Henderson for an 11-yard run and the Saints second touchdown). But what possessed one of quarterback Michael Vick’s favorite targets — Falcons tight end and 2005 receiving leader Alge Crumpler — to drop a potential touchdown pass after finding himself wide open in the end zone? Were the fans shouting “Who dat?” too loudly in his ears?

Which brings us to the real redemption offered by last Monday night’s homecoming football game: It happened when the entire nation wrapped itself in the old gold, black, and white. The game’s celebrity factor alone is the kind the nation saves for a Super Bowl (actually, Monday’s nine-minute pre-game show was a helluva lot better than the geriatric halftime show at Super Bowl XXXIX, put on by the cute but unlikable Beatle, Sir Paul McCartney, whose freshest tune was the title track from the Live and Let Die soundtrack, back when Roger Moore was James Bond.)

Right now the Saints are sitting at the peak of the NFC South Division, unbeaten in three regular-season games, and people are already calling this possibly the team’s most important win in their 39-year-history. It wasn’t just America’s reintroduction to the Superdome, after all the frightful pictures and examples of governmental inertia. It was also a reintroduction to New Orleans and the kind of story a gambling nation always has a use for: fighting for glory, against the odds. During the game’s ESPN telecast, the Chicago Tribune reports, New Orleans columnist Chris Rose begged commentator Joe Theisman to “tell them that New Orleans is still the best city in America. Tell them to come see for themselves, that we’re happy, hopeful, joyful, and celebratory still. Then tell them this: New Orleans is a broken, suffering mess, weakened and scared. We’re not ashamed to say it, Joe: We’re afraid.”

The Saints game is one step on the road to exorcising the demons leftover from Hurricane Katrina, and for New Orleans to continue its plea to not be forgotten by the nation. And it’s another reason why Saints’ owner Tom Benson better keep them in the Big Easy.

“It meant a lot to them when the Saints didn’t leave in their time of need,” Reggie Bush told the Associated Press. “When the people of New Orleans needed something to look to for confidence and something to be proud of, they looked to the Saints.”

We’re all looking their way too. So move over, Dallas Cowboys: The Saints may be giving you a run for America’s team.


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