JOPLIN, Mo. —
Or, more accurately: Finally, Saints football.
For those of you who don’t know, I was born in New Orleans. Though I have lived in New Jersey and Missouri for most of my life, my dad and I always kept the fires going for the Saints all through my childhood, avoiding the Giants, Jets, Chiefs and later the Rams like the plague. As part of his job in insurance, my dad got to walk around on the roof of the Superdome when it was being built.
Hadsalls are die-hard Whodats, in other words. One of the joys of my life is how The Lovely Paula Hadsall and Duncan became Saints fans by osmosis, without a word of convincing or pleading by me. And as a Dolphins fan, Mitchell doesn’t hate the Saints, so that’s good, too.
The official start to the season happened Wednesday night, when the Dallas Cowboys played the New York Giants. Because this column was written before the game, I don’t know who won, but I know that home teams in season openers are undefeated since 2003, the year after the NFL started pairing the Super Bowl winner with a visiting team a few days before Sunday.
I know I rooted for the Giants, who are quarterbacked by New Orleanian Eli Manning. Plus, I really hate the Cowboys, but that has less to do with the actual team and more to do with a Christmas present disappointment and an ex-girlfriend who was a raving fan. TMI? Probably.
I do know that it was weird for the New Orleans Saints to not be involved in that game. No other team has played more season openers than the Saints (three games) Ñ they are the only team to repeat opening-day appearances (2010 and 2011).
But all that weirdness will be gone Sunday, when I can watch the Saints take on the Washington Redskins.
I don’t know how I’ll watch the game yet. The allure of Geek Central is strong: Thanks to a high-speed Internet connection and a comfy office chair, I can fire up WWL’s broadcast of the Saints Radio Network and listen to Jim Henderson and Hokie Gajan call the game.
Henderson has been the voice of the Saints for years, and his calls of Saints games are edged with the tension of impending disaster, followed by emotional celebration when that disaster is averted. I’ve spent many years riveted to my computer screen, listening to the gameday broadcast and following play-by-play drive charts.
But because it’s opening weekend, I have an urge to go out and watch the game among other fans. It’s been a long offseason, and I like talking football with other people and enjoying a day hearing cheers and cussing.
Joplin has a couple of good, non-smoking places to watch the game (yes, non-smoking is important to me for various asthma- and laundry-related reasons):
¥ Gusano’s is a no-brainer: Its bar features a wide variety of draught beers, the pizza is phenomenal, and they have plenty of well-placed TVs.
¥ Pitchers was a pleasant surprise: We watched the Saints play the Detroit Lions in the playoffs last season at Pitchers, and loved how all the TVs were at a great eye level. The food was pretty good, too.
As football gets played this Sunday, it will help to erase the memories of a long, painful offseason. It’s been rough for Saints fans:
¥ Last season ended with a heartbreaking loss to San Francisco in the divisional round of the playoffs. The Saints, who had been battered by the Niners’ brutal defense all game, finally scored a go-ahead touchdown off a Jimmy Graham 66-yard catch-and-run with 1:37 left. But the Saints’ aggressive D folded and allowed Alex Smith to throw a game-winning touchdown to Vernon Davis with 7 seconds left.
It was, hands down, the most stunning Saints game I’d ever seen.
• But things only got worse after that game. A few months later, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell charged the Saints with running a bounty scheme. Breaking the news himself, he alleged that Saints defensive players contributed money to a pot for injuring players on opposing teams.
• Soon after that, ESPN reported that Saints General Manager Mickey Loomis had his box wired to tap into opposing teams’ communications before Hurricane Katrina damaged the Superdome in 2005.
• Then came the suspensions for Saints coaches and players related to the alleged bounties. Coach Sean Payton: Gone for a year. Linebacker Jonathan Vilma: Gone for a year. Loomis: Eight games. Coach Joe Vitt: Six games. Lineman Will Smith: Four games.
• Here’s the worst part about the alleged bounties and wiretapping: They both appear to be untrue.
As players have fought their suspensions, evidence indicates NOTHING about a scheme where injuries to players were rewarded. The evidence instead points to a pay-for-performance pot, where sacks and interceptions were rewarded. May seem like semantics, but to Saints fans, it looks like Goodell is charging the Saints with first-degree murder for swatting flies.
For whatever reason, Goodell and the NFL don’t want to show all its evidence that would clear this up without a shadow of doubt. As Vilma continues with his lawsuit against Goodell and the NFL, all that shaky evidence may be revealed to the public — finally.
As for the wiretapping, the Louisiana State Police investigated and found nothing worthy of a charge. The FBI is expected to release a similar report. Yet ESPN has not issued any corrections or apologies. See why I’m ready for some Saints football?
Saints fan, not football fan
If anything, this offseason has helped me define an important distinction: I’m not a fan of football.
I’m a fan of Saints football.
When I watch a non-Saints game, it’s because there are implications for the Saints, or connections to the Saints. All the stats I know off the top of my head are related to the Black and Gold.
I look at a fleur-de-lis with reverence. It’s a symbol I’ve loved since I was in first grade, where I wore out my gold and black Crayolas. Since Katrina, a fleur-de-lis is now a symbol of recovery and perseverance for me. When I finally get a tattoo, it will likely be a fleur-de-lis.
I’ve endured teasing and taunting for years, and endure it all with pride. Of course, thanks to Payton, Drew Brees and others making the Saints a source of football excellence, that taunting has faded. Winning the Super Bowl in 2009 helped, too.
My wardrobe has a separate section of Saints shirts and jerseys. The new Geek Central has a rebuilt shrine of Saints memorabilia and ephemera, from a helmet signed by Reggie Bush, Pierre Thomas and other players to a black and gold piggy bank featuring a pig wearing a jester’s cap and Mardi Gras beads.
All that controversy over the offseason merely strengthened my love for the team. It’s made me appreciate the Times-Picayune’s and WWL’s coverage of the team even more than I already did, and really jaded me to the awful version of sports journalism provided by ESPN.
In fact, all the bad journalism and premature judgment by sports columnists who write for networks that have billion-dollar contracts with the NFL for broadcast rights has emphasized the value of local coverage.
I’ll try to keep the Saints love to a minimum in my column this football season. There’s plenty to geek out about over the next few months: “American Horror Story,” “The Walking Dead,” “The Hobbit,” new albums from Dave Matthews Band and Muse, “Borderlands 2,” etc.
But this year more than most years I’ll be ready to dive into some serious Saints football. Keep track of my Twitter account, @JoeHadsall, to see where I’ll be during gameday. I’ll be glad to teach you the proper Whodat chant if you ask, and tell you exactly why I wouldn’t throw Goodell a roll of toilet paper if he was drowning.
JOPLIN, Mo. —
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