A Love Note to New Orleans and its Saints

We were in seminary and living in this city in 1967 when New Orleans was granted a franchise in the National Football League. A year or two earlier, I had worked at Tulane Stadium when the Chicago Bears and Detroit Lions (I’m pretty sure) played an exhibition game here to whet our appetites. I sold ice cream for Brown’s Velvet Dairy that night and still recall the enthusiasm of the crowd.

When we were awarded a team, the city went bonkers. A contest was held to come up with a name. Someone suggested SAINTS and had each letter stand for something, like Strength, Authenticity, Integrity–stuff like that. They played off the local anthem “When the Saints Go Marching In” which was (and is) played at most things around here.

In November of ’67, my family moved off to Greenville, Mississippi, to pastor Emmanuel Baptist Church. In those days of only three TV channels–and maybe one NFL game a week broadcast–we had one way of hearing the play-by-play, and that was to try to pick up WWL. Many a time, after Sunday dinner, I’d go outside and sit in the car and try to hear the game through the static.

Somehow I heard that middle linebacker Dave Simmons was a Christian and we flew him up to spend the weekend with our church, our youth, and–yep–our pastor. Dave and Sandy and I later were members of FBC Jackson MS together and came to a good relationship. He began King’s Arrow Ranch in South Mississippi for a ministry. Dave is in Heaven, but the ranch goes forward.

All of this is to say I’m a charter member of the Who Dat Nation. And now…after over 40 years of disappointments, hopes fueled and hopes dashed, after some of the sorriest coaches on the planet, after teams that were so bad fans wore bags over their heads and called themselves the Aints–after all that, now this.

Oh, Lordy, it’s sweet.

The headline across the top of the newspaper this morning reads: “CAN’T BEAT DAT.” Underneath: “Slaughter of Patriots proves Saints are for real.”

While this city–and the entire region–goes ballistic over the 11-0 record so far after the blowout last night of the New England Patriots, I know one group of people who are rejoicing with us and hurting a little.

New Orleanians who live elsewhere.

Because I’ve been there. Many a night in Columbus, Mississippi, or Charlotte, North Carolina, I would tune in 870 on the AM dial (WWL, which bills itself “the flagship station of the Who Dat Nation) just to listen to the sound of this city–the traffic report in which they would name streets or the local news, anything.

As a college student I recall listening to Leon Keltner and his orchestra playing in the Blue Room of the Roosevelt Hotel. Again, on WWL. I was a teenager at the time.

I loved this city before I ever knew this city.

Students arrive at our New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and stay two or three years, get their degrees, and leave for ministry assignments throughout the country or the world. But they take a little part of New Orleans with them and never quite get over what it was like to live here.

When they think of New Orleans, they remember feeding the homeless in Jackson Square or witnessing in the Ninth Ward or having a Po-boy at The Bakery. They remember the wide, boulevard-type streets where you can’t turn left at intersections but have to drive until you come to a U-turn. They think of the waves lapping up over the seawall at the lakefront, the children’s Storyland at City Park, and oyster po-boys at Vazquez. Some of the old-timers remember movies at the Robert E. Lee or the Joy, symphonies at the city auditorium, and high school games at City Park Stadium.

They remember the local accent that sounds weirdly like people were from Brooklyn. They recall how out-of-place they themselves felt at first, getting acquainted with locals with hard to pronounce and impossible to spell last names, but who had first names like Jim Bob and Hap and Ed or Sally-Ann or Susie and who were some of the nicest people on the planet.

And today, they wish they were in New Orleans. Just to savor the spirit, soak up the atmosphere, feel the wave of joy washing across this region.

It’s not a religion, except for a few, God bless them. For most, it’s a fun diversion in a region that has suffered like few have in this country. The highs and lows this city has known over the past decade have made us all a little crazy, and we are enjoying this ride.

When the Saints’ record was 6-0, the team rebuked anyone who dared speak of “going all the way”–to an undefeated record of 16-0 and possibly on to the big game itself, that one we’ve dreamed of but attended only as host: the Super Bowl. No city has hosted it more times than New Orleans, and no team has gone 40 years–I think this is right–without participating in one. No one but the Saints.

Did you see that throw by Drew Brees last night? I know–there were a lot of them. But, number 9 was standing in the middle of a hurricane–bodies flying past him, Patriots trying to get to him, the noise deafening–and he flings that ball downfield with all his strength. Robert Meacham is running this way, then that way, then straight toward the end zone, and with defenders on both sides of him, puts out his hands without looking backward, and that ball falls into his palms. Touchdown.

A 38 yard pass, as accurate as threading a needle from across town. Incredible. That’s all you can say.

No wonder the fans screamed with delight.

That joy has been pent up for going on half a century and this feels too good to stop.

A few years back, it was the Patriots that went 16-0 and they lost in the Superbowl. We remember. No one is under any illusions around here. They know you can have a perfect season, but when the playoffs begin, all bets are off and you start all over again. They know. Hey, we went a quarter of a century without even getting into the playoffs, and then years after before we won one post-season game. We know.

Know who Mike McKenzie is? He was unemployed, cut by the Saints last Spring, but called back last week when some of our best guys were unable to play last night. They ought to give Mike the game ball, he was that incredible. He was a pain to the Patriot receivers all night, but among other things, he intercepted Tom Brady and turned the game around.

McKenzie turned it around another time, too. In the third quarter, the Patriots were trailing 31-17 and were down to the Saints 10 yard line. They had a fourth down with 4 yards to go, and decided to go for it. Brady took the snap from the shotgun position and fired the ball to Randy Moss standing near the end zone. No way this pass is not going to be caught. But there was Mike McKenzie, appearing out of nowhere, stretching out his hand to bat the ball to the ground. The decibel level just about went off the charts as fans showed their approval.

McKenzie is living proof that even if no one has hired you, keep yourself in shape and you never know what might happen.

To me, the most stunning thing of the entire evening was the way Pats coach Bill Belichick threw in the towel when the game still had 5 minutes to go.

After watching Drew Brees throw for 3 touchdowns in a single quarter–the first man to ever do that against a Belichick team–the coach many call a genius figured the game was over. He took out his starters and sent in the scrubs. He correctly assessed that there was no point in risking one of them getting hurt with 5 games remaining in the regular season, followed by the playoffs.

The Boston sportswriters in the Dome told Times-Picayune guys that in all their years covering the Patriots, they could not recall ever seeing Belichick do that. It was more eloquent than anything the Pats coach said in the post-game interview.

All week long, we kept hearing about Randy Moss, the star receiver for the Patriots, and how the Saints had never been up against anyone as great as Tom Brady. In the game last night, Moss pulled in 3 catches for a total of 67 yards. And Brady, let’s just say he never found his rhythm. He made some great throws, but for the most part, he looked like he was still learning the game.

The headline of the sports section this morning proclaims: “LOUD & PROUD.” And underneath: “Undefeated Saints hand Patriots a prime-time pummeling.”

Oooh. This feels so good.

You long time die-hard Who Dats. Look at that again and tell me if you had not given up hope of ever seeing such a headline, of the Saints ever handing anyone a prime-time pummeling, much less the pre-eminent team in the NFL!

Displaced New Orleanians should make www.nola.com a favorite. It carries an abbreviated version of the Times-Picayune each day.

Today, Bobby Bowden retires at Florida State and yesterday Notre Dame fired Charlie Weis. LSU is investigating possible football violations, and the Hornets’ Chris Paul is eager to return after an ankle sprain over two weeks ago.

But pardon us if we ignore all this. Just for today, the only thing that matters is that the Saints are 11-0.

Sportswriter Jeff Duncan: “Who’s next? Is there anyone left for the New Orleans Saints to vanquish this season? Is there anything left for them to prove?”

Duncan says Tom Brady admitted that his team which has won three Super Bowl titles in the last 9 years did not belong on the same field as the Saints. “There’s a big gap between us.”

Incidentally, the Saints set some records last night.

They averaged 9.6 yards per play, a franchise record.

Drew Brees’ 16-plus yards per pass attempt was a single-game club record.

And we’re told that no quarterback has ever thrown for 5 touchdowns in one game against a Belichick-coached team. Until Brees did it last night.

Duncan again: “For most of the night, Brees looked like he was operating the joystick of a Madden NFL 2010 game. He completed 18 of 23 passes for 371 yards and five touchdowns. His passer rating was a perfect 158.3. It was only the second perfect passer rating for a Saints quarterback in team history.”

Still quoting: “In the end, the Saints did to the Patriots what they’ve done to the rest of the league throughout their unbeaten start. They made New England look outmanned and frankly discombobulated for most of the final three quarters….. The Saints are the new Patriots. They have emerged as a legitimate power on the NFL landscape and replaced the Patriots as the most feared offense in football.”

Finally–I have to end this sometime–one more comment.

If I were a fan of another team and read all the above, I’d probably accuse New Orleans’ fans of smugness, conceit, a superiority complex, that sort of thing. But I would be wrong.

It’s just our time to enjoy winning for a change. Keep in mind, we’ve never known what that was like. You Falcons fans, you know. You’ve been there. Even the hapless Cleveland Browns and Detroit Lions fans, you’ve been there too. Your team is down this year, but you remember.

So, can we ask you to do us a little favor?

Romans 12 calls on us to “rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep.”

Would you rejoice with us? Come on. We hereby induct you into the Who Dat Nation as an honorary citizen. You are henceforth qualified to wear black and gold, to sport a Fleur-de-Lis as your personal emblem, and greet strangers with a joyful “Who Dat?” even if they think you’ve lost your mind.

When they say, “What did you say?” you just say, “Oh, I’m sorry. It’s a little thing all we Saints fans say to one another.”

I’m having a very good day. (You could tell?) The whole region is having a very good day.

“Lord, many a time I’ve wondered why you sent us back here in 1990. The troubled church I pastored for 7 years before it ‘got good’ and remained healthy for the next 7 years, the rebuilding of this city after the hurricane, the political shenanigans and the summertime heat, the crime and the traffic–they’ve all put these grey hairs in my head.

“But thank you. Lord, I do love this city. It sure is a great time to be here. Thanks again. Amen.”

12 thoughts on “A Love Note to New Orleans and its Saints

  1. Glad for the Saints! Just don’t forget where Drew Brees went to school. Could be your team and our team-Colts- in the SB.

  2. Woody means Purdue, Drees’ alma mater. We remember, friend. Thanks, Boilermakers.

  3. Hard to stay focused on work with this kind of stuff coming across our email in NOLA –

    Who Dat!

    Who Dat!

    What a game!!!

    Twas the month before Christmas and no sign of snow.

    But N.O. doesn’t care cause the Saints are 11 & 0.

    Dinkins scored a touchdown, Sharper intercepted a pass.

    And the Who Dat Nation cheered when Brady was sacked on his a

  4. Thanks for a beautiful tribute to our city, people, and team! Your love and knowledge of the city are very present in your writing.

    Christine Ewy, Author

    Why People Live in New Orleans

  5. Thanks for the invitation to induct me into the Who Dat Nation as an honorary citizen. You almost convinced me to wear black and gold, and sport a Fleur-de-Lis emblem. Maybe I can relate to the words of king Agrippa in Acts 26:28 “Then Agrippa said to Paul, “You almost persuade me to become a Christian.”

    You almost persuade me to become a fan! However, I’m a “Packer backer” and I’ll wait for my team to relinquish the quest before I cheer for the Saints.

  6. First, as one of those seminary boys who came from out of town to get his degree and wound up investing 10 years of his life into the city, let me say that New Orleans grows on you…kind of like a fungus. (I’ve been gone for nine years and still haven’t managed to get it out–there’s no place like it on earth :-))

    Second, what are New Orleanians going to do if the Saints meet the Colts in the Super Bowl? Will they pull for the hometown team or the favorite son?

  7. Bro. Joe,

    Hope you don’t mind a little “course correction”! You aren’t having a very good day. You’re having a GREAT, STUPENDOUS, SPECTACULAR, TONS-OF-FUN day! Monday night was a blast and I wish I had been there.

    I’m registering to win Saints-Cowboys tickets and praying to win!!! I’d love to see the Saints send the Cowboys mosyin’ on outta town. LOVED Neil’s poem.


    Becky Charrier

  8. After commuting for 3 years from Gulfport to get my ThM degree at NOBTS, then moving to N.O. to pastor for another 3 1/2 years, I guess I qualify as a “Who Dat?” citizen. I never was too much of a “Saints” fan while there, because of their interruptions of worship services at Valence St. Baptist Church, and all of the desecration of the “Lord’s Day”(on Magazine St.) then, and now, but I’m glad to see that they are on top one time in their lifetime, and I wish them well, all the way to the Super Bowl. Thanks for this article to inform us of their victory over the Pats. “Old Friend” Hugh Martin.

  9. Bro. Joe- you made me cry! I love where we are and know God has placed us here, but I miss New Orleans too!

  10. Joe, print out the column and carry it to the Times-Pic sports desk. Give it to them and tell them to let you write the rest of the Saints day after stories. You did better than any of the several papers I read!

    Oh – anyone know why none of the stories remember we knocked off the Giants as bad as the Pats?

  11. I have been watching Saints games with my Daddy since I was able to sit up and at age 33 Monday night’s game was the most fun He, I and my hubby have had watching a football game.

  12. WHEW DAT

    What a comeback over the Redskins! No new blog necessary to revel in the most amazing game of the season. 12-0 and division champions.

    WHO DAT!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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