I’m sure there are many answers as to why football matters, but I’m getting a big reminder of why it matters to me. As a child, before the days of VCR’s and TIVO, my father once asked me to watch a game while he was hosting a gathering in our home. He wanted me to tell him everything that he missed between runs up to the TV. I believe it was the Redskins (my home team) against Miami. That day, football went from being something that took my dad’s attention away from me to something we could share and I went from a kid who didn’t care about the game to a Redskin’s fan.
I followed the Redskins through college, sat on the 50 yard line at a home game and even hosted a few spaghetti dinners in my home for some of the players who missed home-cooked meals. I also became an avid Maryland Terrapins fan, painting a fighting Terp on my cheek and wearing a jersey to every home game. I even did road trips to away games as far away as Michigan and North Carolina. But when college ended, my enthusiasm for football ended with it. I never watched a whole game again and never really cared who was playing much less who won.
Moving here, I knew that I would be rekindling my love affair with football after 20 years of ambivalence. The first week I was here, the Saints played (and beat) the Skins. I wanted the Saints to win, but I didn’t want to watch. My friend, Lauren, said she not only hadn’t watched the game, but couldn’t stand how crazy everyone was for the sport and was hoping to find a man (in this town???) who wouldn’t waste her time watching every Sunday. I understood her position, but I decided to tell her why I was letting football back in after all these years, why football matters.
Football players, like many athletes, are modern day gladiators. They give us surrogates for all of our passion for winning, conquering, overcoming, even for failure. In football, anything can happen. A team can come from behind and win in the last seconds, a deciding field goal can be missed, a major player can be injured (I’ll never forget watching Theismann’s career end with a snap), and a team that’s never been to the Super Bowl can bring an entire city together for victory after victory and even in defeats. Heck, defeat was the Saints main business until this year and the fans stayed true.
Football gives us a common language, it gives total strangers shared ground. All you need to make a friend during football season is a favorite team. It even gives people something to argue about without ever getting personal. It identifies you with a home town, declares your allegiance to regions that love cheese or Viking horns or, of course, to the “Who Dat Nation.”
And, beyond the thrill of victory and agony of defeat stuff, the uniforms are flattering to the male form, accentuating wide shoulders and bulging biceps (and padded backends).
Fans talk about their team as if they owned it or played for it, “We really showed ’em what we got,” “We need to shore up our defense,” “If only we’d caught that pass,” etc. etc. I used to find that ridiculous, annoying even. Now I see it as part of the charm of team sports – the team extends beyond its players to include the fans. The fans are more essential to the game (and business) of football than any great player has ever been. And lucky, lucky us – we get to be a part of the team without breaking a sweat (or a fingernail).
I must be the luckiest girl in the world to have arrived this year of all years. I’ve paid no penance, suffered no losing seasons, had no hopes dashed. Even if the Saints lose, which they won’t, this is the best season of football they’ve ever played. And the Super Bowl lands on the first Sunday of Mardi Gras making an already giant celebration epic. All of the hotels downtown are booked for that, normally less popular, weekend of the festivities.
Which brings me to why football matters here and now. This city, this state, has been through too much in the last 5 years. After Katrina, the city was broken in many ways and battered in all others. Then it was medicated. People slowly returned and are still returning. Every week, I meet more people who’ve come back within the last 6 months. People have rebuilt and renewed and continue to re-birth this marvelous soul of a nation. People from all over the country have participated in bringing this city back and it is slowly returning to it’s former grandeur and adjusting to its newer businesses and buildings. But nothing, and I really do mean nothing, could have brought this phoenix from the ashes with more speed and fervor than a winning football team.
Football is king here, not baseball, not golf, not even the region’s many water and outdoor sports. Only a fearless warrior can even think of throwing themselves headlong into other warriors determined to stomp them. It amazes me every time I see them use their bodies like bulldozers or break from a pack to reach for a flying bullet.
As for Lauren, she and I have watched 3 games together, cheered and screamed and jumped up and down together, gotten momentarily bummed over defeats. She’s a proud, card carrying member of the Who Dat Nation now.
And I keep hearing that Saints fever is spreading. Americans love an underdog and we are torn-eared, waterlogged scrappers who’ve never even gotten to go to the show. But, every dog has its day, even an underdog. Sunday will be ours!
As we descend on Miami like tipsy locusts, some of what New Orleans loves about football will be curtailed. The average bar in the French Quarter closes after 4 am, if it closes at all. Some just say, “Could you move your feet, honey, we’re sweeping” and go on with their business. And we drink in the streets here. Heck – we dance in the streets like it’s Studio 54. People here mostly don’t honk at traffic stuff, but Heidi honked until her horn died when we won last week and she was just a note in a symphony.
The folks of Louisiana have rented every motor home in Miami only to find out that there’s no tailgating there. We come in peace, but we come to party. As locals have grown concern over how the folks of Miami will deal with our Mardi Gras/Super Bowl celebration, our mayor has called their mayor to let them know we don’t mean any harm and a local writer did a far better job than I could have to explain what’s heading Miami’s way this week. I hope you enjoy his open letter to Miami as much as I did.
And, of course, GEAUX SAINTS!!!
And, in case you want to see a piece of it for yourself, here’s Royal Street before the game last week.
And Bourbon Street after.