I've always been a New Orleans Saints fan. When I was a young kid, the names of Dalton Hilliard and Reuben Mayes passed over my lips dozens of times. I pretended to be Bobby Hebert and Morten Andersen in my backyard on countless occasions as well. I wanted to be a part of the Dome Patrol with Pat Swilling. I also wanted to run roughshod over defenders like Craig "Ironhead" Heyward.
As the years went by, a few other teams in the league attracted my attention, but it was primarily for individual players and not the team as a whole. Who didn't like Walter Payton when he set records with the Chicago Bears? I couldn't help but respect him and other football greats like Joe Montana (SF 49ers), Marcus Allen (Oakland/LA Raiders), and Barry Sanders (Detroit Lions).
In fact, the only team that I considered myself to be a true fan of other than the Saints was the Houston Oilers. Granted, they were never that much better than the Saints, but they had ties to the Fleur-de-lis via Bum Phillips, Earl Campbell, and a few others over the years. Also, they regularly faced the hated Dallas Cowboys, so that made me cheer them on even more.
When it comes down to loyalty, though, mine has always rested with the Saints. Despite years of futility with just a few seasons of success here and there (but never a Super Bowl and, for a long time, not even a playoff win or appearance), I lived and died with the Saints.
It wasn't until the last few seasons (especially post-Hurricane Katrina), that I began to honestly believe the Saints could win it all. The team was starting to have consistent success on the field. Quarterback Drew Brees ran the offense with scary efficiency, and instead of having to rely on one or two targets, he could now literally pick from a multitude of players, all of which were lethal in their own regard. Marques Colston's uncanny ability to pull in a pass within the zip code area amazed me. Reggie Bush's flailing dives into the endzone were fun to watch. Big Jeremy Shockey, despite injuries, always managed to remain a threat to opposing defenses.
On the opposite end of the field, the Saints' defense was starting to develop a brutal, punishing line that sent plenty of quarterbacks scurrying for safety and firing off poor passes. When the ball went into the air, players like Darren Sharper and Tracy Porter would snipe it away from would-be receivers.
When the 2009 season started, my hopes were high that the Saints would finally win the big one.....and they did.
I honestly didn't know how to react when the clock ticked off the last few seconds and the Saints became the NFL's Super Bowl champions. Never in my life, from my high school to my university had a team I cheered for ever won a championship. A few came close, such as the McNeese State Cowboys going to (and losing) their national championship in football and the Houston Astros getting swept in the World Series, but none of them ever put me in the position of actually supporting a championship team.
To this day, I still can't believe that the Saints actually won it all. I can remember my brother (who has lived in New Orleans for over twenty years) calling me and screaming out, "We won the Super Bowl!!," while his friends at the local bar screamed out behind him. I can remember flipping on the local news and seeing the long line at the local Academy Sporting Goods store winding into the parking lot and onto the street as fans waited to be one of the first to buy the new Saints Championship shirt and cap. I can even remember all of the black and gold draped all over southwestern Louisiana in stores, homes, and schools. It was amazing!
Now, with their first season as a defending champion nearing its end, the Saints are currently in the running for a wild card spot in the playoffs. If the Atlanta Falcons trip up in their last few games (which is unlikely given their remaining schedule) and the Saints beat them when they face each other for the second time this season, chances are high that the Saints could repeat as champions.
Hopefully I can find out what that feels like.
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