During this school year, some of my students researched British football teams for their term papers. In English IV, we were analyzing all things British. The students who selected British football teams discovered players like David Beckham, controversies such as the Hillsborough incident, and rivalries between the cities of Liverpool and Manchester. I explained to those young researchers that to many of the people in those cities, much like New Orleans, their teams represented more to them than a winning team. They often carried the spirit of the city with them.
In New Orleans, our Saints certainly carry the pride and soul of our city, and we embrace them for it. God knows that New Orleans has undergone drastic changes over the years, and since the late 1960's, the New Orleans Saints have been part of our history. At times, the relationship was ambivalent. The team boasted some players of note, but we lost like poor gamblers in the 1980s, and many fans wore bags over their heads. Nonetheless, we still flocked to the Dome on Poydras Street, forever hopeful. We loved them even when they were the "Aints." When Katrina struck, we feared Mr. Benson would move the team to the bowels of Texas, but the final move didn't happen, and Benson's Saints became our city's greatest supporters. We stopped fashioning voodoo dolls in Mr. Benson's image and embraced him as a jocular Pere holding an umbrella in the second line. Who knows? Maybe our faith and love united the Saints. They started to play as a team, and we were Super Bowl bound! "Kick that ball through that f-ing fleur de lis, son, you belong here." Wow, we know Payton's words by heart.
In the past year, we've suffered through the bounty scandal. I'm not excusing loutish behavior, but if the NFL bigwigs think we're the only mad dogs in the NFL, they're wearing blinders. We took our punishment as we must, but the Saints good behavior outweighs their bad behavior. Our boys visit hospitals, schools, and children's homes bringing cheer to patients and students. Drew Brees and his fellow players have donated to charitable organizations. They are visible in the community, shopping at local markets and stores. We'll be back with our coach next year. (You know, that guy with the good Irish first name). Bless you, boys.
So, yes, I understand the passion people in Liverpool, Manchester, and other English and/or Irish towns feel for their teams. Teams are often close to their cities because they speak to the cities' hearts and souls. I understand why Liverpool doesn't like Manchester. We don't exactly love Dallas. (Sorry, Texas, you guys are nice neighbors, but we don't like your Dallas team!) I understand why the city of Liverpool, its officials, and its club wanted justice after the disastrous Hillsborough incident because their fans were maligned and killed after that terrible event. Katrina inundated our city, killed many of our citizens, and forced us from our homes. That catastrophe wasn't the result of a football incident but a systematic industrial and governmental failure. But--the Saints gave us a ray of hope in the midst of despair, rescuing us from the terror of loss and the hopelessness we felt as we rebuilt. Our Saints are close to our hearts because they helped with the resurrection of our city and our psyche in the most damaging of times.