BEFORE THE GAME
New Orleans and surrounding parts are all agog today. The Saints are playing the Philadelphia Eagles tonight for the NFL division championship. The winner goes to the NFC championship next weekend, and the winner of that to the Super Bowl in Miami on February 4.
You’d think we’ve never been here before.
We haven’t. Well, we’ve played in post-season playoff games. Four of them, to be exact, in 40 years of Saints football. And we’ve won exactly one. But this year figures to be different.
It feels different. The other times in previous years, honestly, we felt like impostors. Maybe the ball will bounce our way, anything can happen, we might luck up. This time, Saints fans feel like the team is honestly good enough to go all the way.
Today’s Times-Picayune splashed a headline across the front page: “All Saints Day!” It is indeed. Everywhere you look–and I put in 65 miles around this town today–people are wearing their Saints regalia. Even the doormen at swanky hotels. My son Neil took his three children to Academy Sports and let them buy Saints jerseys. Two opted for quarterback Drew Brees and the other for Reggie Bush’s shirts.
The paper ran a feature about Jackson, Mississippi, today, how the citizens are rooting for the Saints and buying up all the team’s caps and shirts they can find, a direct result of the team holding their training camp at Millsaps College last summer. Couple of funny stories….
Con Maloney owns an appliance store in Jackson. Last summer he ran a promotion to sell HDTV sets, and promised that if the Saints win the Super Bowl, he will refund the price of the set minus the sales tax. He sold a million dollars worth. At the time, of course, no one gave the Saints even a slim chance. They’re still a long way out, but it has become a distinct possibility.
Maloney confesses he has bought a half-million dollars of insurance in case he has to fork out those big bucks. He says the publicity will be worth the other $500,000 if it does indeed come to pass.
A bar owner in Jackson decided to buy a couple of season tickets for 2007-08 and run a promotional contest. The Saints ticket office said they’d have to put him on a waiting list. He’s number 2,600.
This has been a big day for us.
At 10 o’clock this morning, Global Maritime Ministries on Tchoupitoulas held their annual “board and friends” meeting, followed by a dedication of the new port ministry center at 1:30 pm. This big building is incredibly beautiful and well-furnished. As we gathered, you could see a number of foreign-looking men sitting before computers. “They’re off the Carnival cruise ship ‘Fantasy,'” Philip Vandercook told us. “Normally, they’ll have 25 crew members to drop by the center when they’re in town.”
Freddie Arnold chaired the building committee for Global Maritime, so had to be present at the afternoon dedication, while I drove to Chalmette for the 2 pm ground-breaking service for the “new” First Baptist Church. I would estimate 150-200 people gathered inside the gutted out sanctuary, many of them coming an hour early, just to dream about re-establishing their beloved church. Pastor John Jeffries has done a masterful job working with architects, Builders for Christ, and the Louisiana Baptist Builders.
By the time the nearly 2 hour service ended, Freddie Arnold had arrived and was able to address the crowd. Among the guests were several St. Bernard Parish leaders, Missouri Baptist leaders, and Dr. David Hankins, the executive director of Louisiana Baptists.
At one point, when they ran a video showing photos of the flooded sanctuary with its mildewed pews and ruined walls, as well as the destroyed educational building, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house. Someone might be tempted to say this were just so much lumber and material, but don’t tell them that. This was their church and it was precious to them.
Some of the members drove in a long way to be present. The hymn leader said, “This is my first time back.”