My days as a spectator of sports actually began in my twenties, when Dan began courting me by bringing me to restaurants and concerts, going to movies with me, and, when summer came, taking me to see the AAA New Orleans Zephyrs baseball team. I began to pay more attention to baseball in general, amassing a baseball library (which I still have - you can't revisit classics such as Ball Four and Veeck As In Wreck too much, in my opinion), and revisiting dormant tendencies towards Mets fanaticism (what can I say? I grew up in Houston, and memories of '86 still roll around in my head. The Astros were a letdown, but that Mets team was something else. Never been anything like it, and, because Fred Wilpon couldn't believe the badass monster he'd created and hurriedly dismantled it, there probably never will be anything like it ever again...).
Basketball? Through Dan, once again, I get a good dose of college basketball, especially in the 2004-2005 season and the March madness that ensued when his beloved Illini made it to the Final Four in the NCAA tourney. Still and all, it never took hold of my imagination like baseball did. Bookwise, the only books I have read about basketball that have captured my heart as much as the baseball books are In These Girls, Hope Is A Muscle, Pat Summitt's Raise the Roof, and John Feinstein's A March To Madness and The Punch.
I now come to football. Football has been insidious in my life. I grew up in Texas, for crying out loud, the footballing-est of all the states in this country. Football was a fact of life. It just couldn't be avoided. I didn't have to seek it out at all, really. My mom is a University of Tennessee alum, second generation, and since my dad went to a small school in upstate New York, our college football allegiances leaned towards UT ("the original UT", as Mom puts it, because we were in Texas). NFL was easy, and not so easy - it was the Oilers for me. Easy because we lived in Houston, not so easy because the team wasn't easy to love. It broke my heart when they up and moved to Tennessee and became the Titans, especially since the giant light-up scoreboard in the Astrodome was ripped out just so that the Oilers could stay put, and they still moved. Ungrateful jerks...
So I moved to New Orleans after four months struggling to live in NYC, and one of the first things I got caught up in was the Saints fever that grips this town come football season. Football in general is unavoidable in this town because of the Superdome, first and foremost. Many Super Bowl games have been hosted in the Dome. Many college bowl games call the Dome their home. Tulane plays its home games there. The place is tailor made for football. So for forty years, Saints fans and followers of the teams fortunes (mostly bad fortunes, but hey...) have watched offseason moves with intense scrutiny. Players and coaches had Saint savior status pinned on them, to no avail. Tom Benson was thoroughly reviled on a regular basis for wanting to permanently relocate the Saints elsewhere. People who had season tickets to the Saints were mildly pitied as each season went on, but it was still nice to know them personally, because you knew you could attend a game occasionally, since the team wasn't so good that the season tix holder HAD to attend every one.
I kept following the team off and on when Dan and I left for New York. I followed NFL games in general off and on, and we'd attend the Super Bowl parties our synagogue in Queens would hold in one of their ballrooms, with a big screen TV and loads of food - and with all the women sitting in the back talking amongst themselves, except for little ol' me, watching the game along with the guys.
Dan and I moved back down here at a time when football is the least of most people's worries here...and at best, it is a diversion.
This season's Saints have provided one hell of a diversion. Season ticket holders are now worshipped. Schoolkids dress in black and gold every Friday to help cheer this team on. Citizens are clamoring for the Saints to enter local politics, since they would most likely do a better job than the yahoos we have in office now. Choruses of "WHO DAT! WHO DAT! WHO DAT SAY DEY GONNA BEAT DEM SAINTS!" can be heard all over the Gulf Coast.
Our hopes are pinned on this team, because in these days of recovery, hope on some days has been waaaay too much to hope for. The Saints are showing people here that even the most lost of causes can be found once again, and can even rise like a phoenix from the ashes. No, this season won't rebuild houses or lives necessarily, but, to paraphrase Julian Bond:
from where we stand
We can only see black and gold
But sometimes we hear Green Day and U2
Singing, "The Saints are Coming",
Then we don't mind struggling a little longer.
Yeah, I'm caught up in it, too. I'm gonna order up another black and gold king cake for the game this coming weekend. I'm gonna kick back, watch the game with some friends, and see if Fox commits any more FCC violations during its broadcast. I'm gonna cheer like a crazy woman for what has truly become America's team, if not America's phoenix.
Geaux Geaux Saints!