Growing up a New Orleans Saints fan sucked. Since I was ten years old, in 1977, I have rooted for New Orleans. Living halfway between Pittsburgh and Cleveland and geographically nowhere near Louisiana always made my explanation of rooting for this team even harder. As new Super Bowl and NFL Champions, the Saints have helped remove the weight of 33 years of torture in a three-hour span.
As a youngster, I heard it all. New Orleans merchandise was tough to come by in Ohio. There was no NFLShop.com in 1977 and merchandise was hard to find. With each Christmas, I was asked what I wanted. I selected the obvious stuff: Atari, Microvision, Bike, and every year, I would ask for a Saints shirt. I got the obvious stuff, but never got a Saints shirt until 1981. It was a #38 George Rogers home replica and I wore it until the paint fell off.
I heard all of the mularkey at school. Everything from, “Tom Dempsey cheated, he used a nine-iron“, to “Hey Paneech, they are 0-3 already, get out your bag”. It got old and never went away. If a schoolmate wanted to unnerve me all they had to do was fire up the Saints jokes.
In college, more of the same. Remember, the Steelers were just coming off of a dynasty and the Browns and Bernie Kosar were winning division championships, so I was getting slagged both ways. By the time I graduated college, I owned a Bobby Hebert and a Rickey Jackson shirt. It was really heartwarming to see Rickey get into the Hall of Fame as I still feel he may be the most unheralded linebacker to ever play the game. Wanna credit someone for ‘Who Dat?”, I’ll give you a hint. Long before Ochocinco, Jackson wore a towel tucked into the side of his pants with a little stick figure drawing on it. Dig up the tapes, the crowd was screaming Who Dat a long time ago in the Superdome. ‘Dat’s Who.’
Things seemed to get better as Hebert and four great linebackers knocked the unbeatable Rams out in 2001. However, other than hosting a few Super Bowls, the Saints would be a disappointment through the playoffs when they made it. Again, the bag was back, the insults were flying, and I still stood by my team.
Just a couple of years ago, the Saints played well enough to get to the NFC Championship game, but ran into a buzzsaw in Chicago. Dome teams do not play well in the snow. Lesson learned, but enough respect garnered to keep the bag in that top right drawer.
As I watched the Saints win the Super Bowl, all I could think of was how to destroy my ‘Aint’s’ bag. I dreamt of everything from setting up a lawn chair in my garage and flicking matches into the driveway until I hit the bag causing it to burn. I thought of treating it like a pet and giving it proper burial in the backyard. I even thought of giving it to my cousin who is a Browns fan, he needs it these days. What I ultimately chose was to keep the bag, now over 30 years old, as a reminder of how things go in cycles through our lives.
If you are a fan of a sports team that has struggled for awhile, hang in there, things will eventually change. It is way too easy to become a Yankees fan or to hop on the Kobe Bryant train. This way is much more satisfying.