Preseason is the time of year where football teams try out their new players to see who will make the cut. Normally, rookies take turns showing off while diehard fans cheer on new favorites. But, the Saints almost never do things “normally.” First, there was the much ballyhooed bounty scandal followed by an eternally long negotiation for quarterback Drew Brees’ contract. The team has lost its head coach, Sean Payton, for the entire season and acting head coach, Joe Vitt, will sit out for 6 games. While everyone else is testing out players, we’re testing out coaches. So why is the Who Dat Nation so excited?
Middle linebacker Jonathan Vilma will sit out the entire season and defensive end Will Smith will miss 4 games. The stench of misconduct hangs in the air where former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams once stood. Even the referees for this season opening Hall of Fame game against the Cardinals were in a labor dispute, leaving a band of confused replacement officials to figure it all out as they went along. After decades of being the “Aints,” I supposed we’re should hang our heads in defeat and look to the future for hope. But from the second Drew Brees threw that first pass, from the moment he led us to our first touchdown of this coming year, I felt nothing but pride.
New Orleans is hosting the Super Bowl this year. Never, in the history of the NFL has any team won a Super Bowl on their own turf. We aim to be the first. Logic tells us we can’t win without our coach and that our defense was weak enough without losing a bunch of guys. Good thing this isn’t a city ruled by logic. The Saints were carried to the 2010 Super Bowl on a tidal wave of belief and showed us that anything is possible. I Believe. Why not? It’s free, it’s fun and it has no calories.
Walking around the city, there are signs everywhere that we are prepping for hosting the Super Bowl. Mostly detour and construction signs. Hotels are remodeling. New businesses are popping up. Uniforms are being updated. The city bustles with the burden and excitement of readying for the biggest game of the year – whether the Saints play or not.
But, this city gets ready for the season even when the stakes are lower. Saints shirts, jackets, jewelry, shoes and hats come out of storage. Wreaths and flags are hung. Manicures and pedicures include a fleur de lis. The city cloaks itself in black and gold. We can’t know if this season will end in tears or triumph, but we’ll be dressed for it either way.
Watching Drew’s first touchdown of the preseason reminded me how much I love this team and how much this team has done to lift this city. Winning that first game reminded me how good victory can feel when you let yourself care. Maybe we should be setting our sites lower, but the Saints taught my that anything is possible and I’ll be there in the stands cheering them on. And maybe, just maybe, coach-less and scrambling to fill positions, the Saints will do something that’s never been done before. I Believe. Who Dat!