JOPLIN, Mo. — Watching my beloved New Orleans Saints has always been a challenge for me. The Internet has made catching a game much easier over the years, of course. But for a while, I had two options:
- Wait for a game to be broadcast on a major network.
- Go to a sports bar.
Both options had their drawbacks:
- This region of Missouri is viewed as Chiefs/Rams/Cowboys territory. That means it's a rare Sunday when the local Fox or CBS affiliate will air a Saints game, unless my Black and Gold is playing one of those three teams. Only then is it a lock. But the past few years of Saints success has meant the team gets more prime-time consideration, such as "Monday Night Football" and playoff games, and that helps.
- A good sports bar is usually filled with smoke, which doesn't help my asthma. Sports bars that claim to have a non-smoking section ensure only that smoke doesn't get blown in your face -- you still leave smelling like the outside of a shopping mall.
My Sunday gametime decisions used to involve which set of troubles I'd take on. I would spend them either in the corner of a sports bar, proudly wearing a Saints jersey, or in front of my computer screen, listening to a WWL radio feed on the Internet and eyeballing the drive chart, desperately hoping that the main network would break away to an occasional highlight.
Saints day is easier to see now. My choices are filled with bonuses, not challenges. Thanks to the fastest Internet package available in Joplin, I can now find broadcasts of full games from well-intended, yet spam-filled and probably not official, websites.
And thanks to a couple of great smoke-free sports bars in Joplin that have great food, going out to watch a game is a treat, not a trial.
I went to Pitchers last week to watch the Thursday night matchup between the Saints and their main rival, the Atlanta Falcons. It was broadcast on the NFL Network, a channel that we don't get at Geek Central, so I headed out with my stepson to watch it.
The outcome of the game was terrible, of course. You've probably heard by now about the five interceptions that Drew Brees threw during the game. The 23-13 loss was painful to watch.
But the loss was made easier with good conversation among football fans. One of the things that makes going to a sports bar great is bumping into people who are there for the same reason as you -- to catch a game and enjoy it. It's even better when I bump into Saints fans -- we can exchange "who dats" and catch up about the city.
And then there are people like D and T.
D and T are a married couple who are Katrina evacuees. They both grew up in the New Orleans area and now call Joplin home.
The Lovely Paula and I first met them in the aquarium-looking non-smoking section at Sportsman's Park during the Saints' Super Bowl season -- it was the Saints' first loss that year, to the Cowboys.
T, the missus, wears her black and gold pride proudly. As she did during that Dallas game, she wore a shirt with a gold fleur-de-lis last week and quietly smiled whenever the Saints did something well.
D, on the other hand, doesn't like the Saints. Coming from a large family, he got tired of his parents and his siblings always rooting for the team. Remember that the team has not made that easy to do over the years. So D decided to hate the Saints.
Three years ago, he was a Cowboys fan. Last week at Pitchers, he was a Colts fan. He roots for whomever plays the Saints. And as much as T doesn't talk, D does.
Here's the thing about D, though: He's one of the few guys on the face of the Earth that makes trash-talking fun. Most guys can't do that -- they usually go too far to make any other conversation uncomfortable.
But not D. I listened to him cheer for every Saints mistake. I watched him run up to the flat-screen TV, as if he could gain some clarity about a fumbled ball by inspecting the screen's pixels. I heard him diss my team, even going so far as to say then-Colts quarterback Peyton Manning was paid a suitcase of money to throw Super Bowl 44 (which the Saints won 31-17).
And I had an absolute ball watching the game alongside him. He even had the nerve to high-five the stuffed Saints monkey that I had brought to the game after a turnover. Saints monkey did not high-five you back, D!
One of the big drawbacks to going to a bar to watch a game for me is the other people there. I take the Saints personally, and I'm not the best in social situations. I'm kinda awkward sometimes, so it's just easier for me to stay home and cheer in the comfort of my office chair.
But if I knew I'd meet people like them every time I went out to watch a game, I'd go to Pitchers or Gusano's every Sunday and stop paying my Internet bill.