Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Johnny-Come-Latelys and Saints Odds and Sods

(I have a lot to say about the DJ Drama arrest, but I'd rather wait another day for the dust to settle and more facts to come out. I'm kind of more of a writer than a blogger in that regard.)

Since this is the most important week in Saints history (until next week--challah bread), my half-drunken post from Saturday night seems inadequate. For one thing, I forgot to assert that the Saints colors look better with khakis than any other uniforms in the history of sports. Seriously. If you can come up with a team that looks better with khakis, put it in the comments. University of Wyoming might come close.

Being a Saints fan is complicated these days because, for the first time, I'm undergoing experiences that are common for a football fan in any other city. For instance, a few weeks ago we were assured a bye in the first round of the playoffs, and I was watching a playoff game that determined the Saints' eventual opponent. Every other time they made the playoffs it was because they won the final game, plus two or three other teams lost, plus they had a crucial tie-breaker, plus the groundhog saw its shadow, etc. For once, I was just a regular football fan weighing different playoff scenarios.

The one who cried at a press conference, hesitated with evacuation and aid decisions, and had trouble delegating to our superior representatives, senators, and mayor because she was too overwhelmed? No, actually, she's second from the left. Just goes to show you: never vote for a wom--I mean a Democr--I mean an unqualified idiot. (Sorry. Back to business.)

After the 2004 championship, Bill Simmons wrote of his Red Sox that they were now "just any other baseball team." Without The Curse hanging over their heads, fans were released of the decades of cynicism and pain that defined them. They could follow their team with a healthy mixture of optimism and negativity from now on. All Saints fans needed was a high seed in the playoffs.

No one wants to give or take credit for it, but the Saints have been one of the most dreadful franchises in sports. While the L.A. Clippers and a handful of other squads have been more terrabull over the years, no one has been as mediocre over a forty year span as the Saints, and going 8-8 every season feels more frustrating than losing every game. People always bring up the Bengals in this conversation, but they forget that Cincinnati went to the Super Bowl twice ('81 and '88), and they won their division in 1990 and 2005. Nice try, Bengals fans. Try being 1-4 in playoff games all-time. Save two chili-dogged division championships that meant nothing in the playoffs, the Tom Dempsey kick, or the franchise's opening kick-off TD, there aren't even any glory days to remember. Couple that sentiment with a 3-13 season last year, when the city was at its nadir in every way. And then the Saints come back like this? No one who isn't from Louisiana can understand how that feels.

If one of your team's most notable athletes was born with no toes on his right foot --and he was a kicker--you might have problems.

For the past twenty-odd years, I've either yelled at my television in the family living room or have half-watched in a dorm bed while hung-over. I'll never forget as I watched various incarnations of bums--the Who Dat? teams, the Dome Patrol, the Cha-Ching and Jim Everett eras, the aimless teams sabotaged by Aaron Fucking Brooks--my mom telling me, "I don't know why you care about that stupid team. They're a bunch of losers. They always will be losers." And I would respond with: "You don't know how this works. When I played Tecmo Bowl as a kid, the worst teams were Seattle, New England, and Indianapolis. And now those are the best teams. It just happens in cycles. One day we're going to win a Super Bowl, and I bet you'll be the first person to throw a Saints party and buy jerseys. And I'm going to laugh at you for being such a disgusting bandwagon fan."

Well, loyal TANBRines, as I write this there's a picture of Deuce McAllister on my mother's desk. She asked me where she could buy a jersey yesterday. I don't know her plans for the weekend, but I'm sure she's watching the game at a party.

Strange things are a-foot at the Port City. You can't walk in the Black-and-Gold Shop or Sports Avenue because of the lines. Three separate old men have told me in conversation, "Hell's getting pret-ty cold right about now." There are king cakes in the shape of fleur-de-lis...es, which is weird because the Saints have played in January so seldomly. I mean, the whole city might shut down if we got to the Super Bowl. No, really, the whole city might shut down.

What else happened during that 3-13 season? Hey, remember that time when the owner took significant steps toward moving the team in the midst of the most devastating natural disaster the country has ever seen? Neither does anyone else.

It's confusing. On one hand, I can't fault these people for being excited about the team. I am, after all. But how much bitterness am I entitled to? Where were these people when we were racking up fourth quarter collapses and/or being led by Heath Shuler and Danny Wuerrfel? I don't regret the times I've suffered with the Saints; it makes it that much sweeter when they're this good. But are bandwagon fans allowed to feel (pretend they feel?) that same relief and joy if they're exempt from everything that separates it before and after?

The thing is, you can't always tell who the bandwagon people are because a love of the team is so ingrained in the city. Even if you don't watch every week, you know someone who follows the Saints religiously--grassy lolz. In fact, even some of the references I threw out in the paragraphs above might sound familiar to a casual Saints fan. It makes you re-define what being a fan means. It's always felt as if the city lives and dies with the Saints--take last year/season versus this one for example--and you can tell if the Saints won or lost on Sunday by the way people act halfway through the next week. Everything's just intensified now. Maybe New Orleans is different from the rest of the country in yet another way. Being a fan is more of a collective experience than an individual one. We're all the Saints. I guess what I'm trying to say is that this all puts me in an inclusive mood. Okay, Mom, you can shake a black and gold pom-pom in my face. Okay, my on-again-off-again girlfriend Scarlett Johansson, you can wear a Saints visor in an interview.

I ain't mad at you, Pumpkin.

Probably the best part of the Saints' success, however, the reason why everyone from Hollywood to the 504 is excited about them, is that they did it with pure common sense. What can be painted as shrewd business savvy was really just good decision-making.

1. Hey, we have a shitty quarterback. There's a good one on the market. He has a torn labrum he's rehabilitating, but that's not a very serious injury. I know we don't usually do this, but let's spend a lot of money on a free agent who makes good decisions, doesn't turn the ball over much, and is a competitor, as opposed to one who makes bad decisions, turns the ball over, and seems to laugh "whatevs" after every interception.

Q: What is...a badass?

2. Hey, our coach's expression looks like he just took a dump in his pants. He has made no adjustments after several losing seasons, and the players have all given up on him. Maybe we should hire a new coach who has experience in winning systems with luminary coaches. It would be perfect if he was especially adept at coaching quarterbacks and devising pass plays. Also, we need one who is young enough to have the energy and dedication to not get burnt out here. Oh, there's one like that?

Dude, I was a little unsure of you because you were a replacement player during the '87 strike, and I'm vindictive like that. But you're a bit like Jesus...scab.

3. Hey, there's a guy in the draft who just won the Heisman Trophy. In high school he ran 100 meters in 10.42 seconds, and the world record is 9.77. He's won at every level he's ever played and would be equally dangerous as a running back, receiver, punt returner, or offensive decoy. He even does little things like block, and if we drafted him he would probably work really hard to build upper-body strength. I hear he's kind of a big deal. Oh, the Texans talked themselves out of him to take a football Sam Bowie? There's another guy in the last round who went to a small school but seems to have good hands. Let's take both.

That kid in the stroller: "Shit. I wanted Mario Williams."

4. Oh, we already have a top-flight back? Let's keep him and create plays using both of those guys. This way he can stay fresh and bounce back from an ACL injury by getting fewer carries. Sounds good.

Despite all of these decisions being the right ones, not many teams would have pulled the trigger on all or even most of them. That's what made the difference though--it's not as if the defense has gotten that much better than last season. Football can be a deceptively simple game sometimes, and the turnaround this season illustrates how moving a few key components can change an entire team. Big up to GM Mickie Loomis, who spent some money in the off-season to make some of this happen. As for Tom Benson? I still kind of want him to die.

Before I wrap things up, here are a few tidbits of information I found:

- In Deuce McAllister's draft diary from 2001, he says he's better than LaDanian Tomlinson. I guess that means he'll score 30 touchdowns next season. Pace.

- Every week, Drew Brees orders a sausage pizza from Louisiana Pizza Kitchen with no cheese. Incredible. That's journalism for you, TANBRines.

- Thankfully, that whole The President nickname for Reggie Bush didn't catch on. Joe Horn tried to christen him with "Baby Matrix," and I'm starting to use it just because it's so stupid.

- And finally, local group (as if anyone else would do this) Johnny Earthquake and the Moondogs have recorded a song about Birthmark Jones. Enjoy.

Johnny Earthquake and the Moondogs- "They Call Him Drew Brees" (mp3)


Anonymous said...

The Old Gold and Black of Wake Forest jerseys look just as solid with khakis. Is there a correlation between overachieving black/gold color schemed teams?


Jim Hammen said...

As a Red Sox fan (and Phil Mickelson to boot), I can tell you that it is incredibly annoying to see everyone jump on your bandwagon, and sometimes you want to pull over and tell them to get the hell off, but that feeling is balanced out by the indescribable euphoria of your snake-bitten team winning it all. I hope the Saints keep it up for two more games so you can know the feeling. i like your blog; keep it up.