Perhaps there have been fewer things that have helped to galvanize this community than the New Orleans Saints. Founded in 1967 it had never been a terribly good team until the advent of the partnership between Sean Payton and Drew Brees after Hurricane Katrina.
The story of its founding tells of the time when Dave Dixon who also founded the Louisiana Superdome Congressman Hale Boggs, Senator Russell Long and NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle collaborated on bringing an NFL team to the city.
The story goes that the founders hit it on the idea of calling it the Saints after the New Orleans song ‘When the Saints Go Marching In’ but wondered if it would offend local Catholics especially Catholic clergy. Dixon met with Archbishop Hannan to ask if it would be inappropriate to name the team the Saints. The Archbishop said without a beat that not only was it not inappropriate but that the team would probably need all the help it could get and gave his blessing to the team’s moniker.
The team has had its share of troubles throughout the years, some years being so bad that embarrassed players would come to games wearing brown paper bags over their heads calling themselves the ‘Aints.
The teams current owner is Tom Benson and many were angered at his toying with the decision to move the team to San Antonio after Katrina. This of course would have been a huge moral and financial blow to the city that was reeling from the after-effects of the storm and struggling on the road to recovery.
One of the teams officials, Arnie Fielkow, got wind of the idea and vehemently opposed this move to another city. He was subsequently fired for not towing the line and instantly became a local hero who soon after ran for president of the city council and won handily. He has always been a great lover and promoter of the city and is much loved by its citizens.
The acquiring of coach Sean Payton has proven to be a huge asset for the team and then his persuading the injured quarterback Drew Brees to come to New Orleans has turned the team into one that was downtrodden and wasted to one of the best teams in the league. Finally after 30 years of trying the New Orleans Saints went all the way to the Superbowl and won in 2010.
Brees had basically been written off because of a serious shoulder injury and was thought to never really be able to play ball again. But after having his shoulder rebuilt and extensive and innovative exercise and retraining he has now become what some consider to be the top quarterback in the league. Although not tall for a quarterback, he’s 6′, his accuracy is beyond amazing and has been able to bring the Saints back from a losing position to winning games in the last few minutes.
Perhaps the most amazing game was the one after the Superdome had been repaired from the destruction of Katrina. Many people around the world had seen the heart wrenching videos and photos of the thousands of people who had sought refuge in the dome and had suffered miserably during and after the storm as part of the ceiling caved in, the bathrooms overflowed and the sweltering heat sickened many people. There were even reports of death and violence but none of these have been confirmed.
But that night in 2006 at the start of the season the energy of the team as it ran onto the field, along with the shouts and cries of the thousands of fans was unlike anything that the dome or the city had ever experienced before. Even as I watched it on TV the energy was palpable and seem to come through the screen. I found myself wiping the tears from my eyes. It was the first true sign of the city’s recovery, that not only would New Orleans come back but it would come back better and stronger than ever. The team won that night crushing the competition.
Sean Payton, Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints are our local heroes. Even the unfair penalties of the bounty scandal of 2012 has not kept our spirits down. In fact, we in the city see it more as an affront to our city and our team than anything else, the NFL commissioner using the Saints as scapegoats for the rest of the league. Oh well, we’ll get over it. And the Saints will go on and remain one of the best in the NFL. Bless you, boys.
Who are da Who Dats?
The term comes from a chant that goes “Who dat, who dat, who dat saying dey gonna beat dem Saints?” “Who dat” is a local colloquialism meaning “who’s that.” Even in the lean years when the team was not very good its fan always believed in it, that someday the team would triumph. Even myself, not really much of a football fan, I find I’ll watch the games and cheer. I now consider myself a Who Dat.
Drew Brees is one of the most loved of all New Orleanians. Although not from here he has become part of the local fabric of the city. Choosing to not separate himself by living in some gated community he lives in an uptown neighborhood in a simple house a block from Audubon Park. He very quietly promotes goodness and decency and family values and through his Dream Foundation has done much good for the city.