Who Dat Whodunnit

Who dat? Who dat? Who dat say dey gonna beat dem Saints?

I am a very proud member of Who Dat Nation, and have been since we moved here in 1996. I never really paid a lot of attention to the NFL before moving to New Orleans; I vaguely was aware of who was good and who wasn’t–and I knew very certainly that the Saints had routinely been one of the worst football teams, consistently, in the league since they were formed in 1966. You couldn’t not be aware of how hopelessly bad the Saints were, year in and year out. I always root for underdogs–a particularly American trait, I might add, which is another good essay topic (how we always root for underdogs, especially in our entertainment–film, television, books–but in the real world we either look the other way or actually pile-on. We all feel bad for poor bullied Carrie White in Stephen King’s Carrie and hate the cruel kids…but how many of us ever stood up for some kid being bullied in school? My experience as the bullied is NONE.)–and so I always wanted to see the Saints somehow turn their program around. Paul and I always watched the games–or had them on–when they aired; there were many times the games were blacked out locally because they didn’t sell out the Superdome.

Three things were inevitable in New Orleans: hot summers, termites in the spring, and the Saints would suck in the fall. When we first moved to Louisiana LSU was also in a downturn slump; some seasons they’d win, some they’d lose, but they were rarely, if ever, in contention for the conference title. I had a Saints ball cap and a Saints T-shirt, of course, but I was an idle fan of theirs for a very long time.

As with so many other things, my attitude towards the Saints was completely changed by Hurricane Katrina.

It was the best of times.

It was the craziest of times.

Well, what it really had to be was the end times, which was the only logical explanation for what was going on in the city of New Orleans.

Pigs grew wings and nested in the branches of the beautiful love oaks everywhere in the city. Some thought the pilot light in hell had gone out, so that icicles hung from the noses of shivering demons in the realm of the dark lord. Others started watching the horizon for the arrival of the Four Horsemen, for surely the Apocalypse must be coming. Surely the earth was tilting on its axis. Maybe aliens would land in Audubon Park, or the Mississippi River would start flowing backward.

Anything and everything was possible, because the Saints were winning.

GEAUX SAINTS!

People who don’t live in the South don’t really understand how important football is down here. Football is more than a religion in the Deep South. I’m not sure what it is–my mom claims it’s because the South lost the Civil War–but it’s true. On Saturdays, when the colleges play their games, the entire region comes to a complete halt. People live and die by their teams–whether it’s LSU, Ole Miss, Alabama, Auburn, Florida, Georgia or Tennessee–and how they face on Saturday. I myself grew up cheering for the LSU Tigers–even though attending Vanderbilt was a family tradition on my mother’s side. Whenever Papa Fontenot gives me crap for dropping (well, flunking is probably a more accurate word) out after my sophomore year, I give him a withering look and reply, “Maybe I’d have done better at LSU.

That always shuts him up.

I don’t think even the Saints organization knew how much the team actually meant to New Orleans until they tried to move the team after Katrina.

Everyone knows the Superdome was damaged by Katrina and the aftermath. I’ll never forget driving back into the city in either late September or early October and seeing it as I came around that curve in I-10 just past Metairie Road and the cemeteries; I wrote in Murder in the Rue Chartres that it resembled a half-peeled hard-boiled egg. One of the saddest things for me about seeing the wreckage of the Lost Apartment was finding my beloved Saints ball-cap lying on the rug in the living room and consumed by black mold. It seemed so symbolic of everything that had happened to us and our city.

Obviously, the Saints had nowhere to play home games and arrangements had to be made. Some games were played at Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge, others in San Antonio–and San Antonio made it very clear they would be more than happy to give them a permanent home.

It felt like the Saints organization was not only stabbing New Orleans in the back, but the entire state. I know I took it very personally; the city had supported and loved that team through decades of mediocrity if not outright suckage, and now when the city is at its lowest point, they’re going to move to San Antonio? But the NFL wasn’t having it–Tom Benson always made it seem like it was his decision, but the NFL was committed to New Orleans and wouldn’t let the Saints leave. The Dome was renovated and fixed in record time; the season tickets for 2006 sold out for the first time in years, and the new Saints–with our new coach and quarterback–debuted on Monday night football against the hated Atlanta Falcons. I wasn’t even aware of it, I was paying so little attention to everything going on around the country and world, to be honest. I ran my errands that day and noticed Saints flags were everywhere and people were wearing Saints jerseys and there was this strange sense of excitement in the air. Paul and I were living in the carriage house and we only had this tiny little black-and-white television, but we watched that night. And when Steve Gleason blocked that punt and the Saints recovered in the end zone–we both cried as we jumped up and down and screamed. (Everyone remembers the punt, but the entire game was amazing from beginning to end.) People call the blocked punt “the moment Louisiana healed,” and maybe they were right about that…but all I knew was for the first time in over a year we had something to be excited about, cheer about, and be proud of–and the Saints made it all the way to the NFC title game, so close to making it to the promised land of the Super Bowl.

I’ve been a rabid Who Dat ever since (2005 I also switched my first college allegiance from Auburn to LSU, but that’s a story for another time.).

And that magical season when the Saints not only went to, but won the Super Bowl? I had to write about it. I had never lived in a city that won a championship before, and let me tell you–it was insane in New Orleans that season, insane–as were the play-offs and the Super Bowl. I cried when Tracy Porter picked off Peyton Manning in the fourth quarter and ran it back for a touchdown to ice the game, and I cried again when the clock ticked to zero and the impossible had finally happened: the Saints had won the Super Bowl. It was so noisy that night; cars were honking their horns all night long, the streetcars rang their bells non-stop, and people were just chanting and cheering all over the city. We could hear the crowd at the bar on the corner, we could hear our neighbors, it was just insane and celebratory. Paul and I to this day have regretted not getting dressed and heading down to the Quarter to see it all; when will that ever happen again? The Saint may win a Super Bowl again, but it will never be the first time ever again.

I remember later that spring a friend asked if I thought the Saints would be good again the next year, and I just smiled. “I don’t know and I don’t care. All I know is we finally won the Super Bowl and I can die happy, and I think a lot of us feel that way.”

The Saints are New Orleans, and New Orleans is the Saints. (I also am a little disappointed in myself for forgetting that A Streetcar Named Murder is actually set during football season; I didn’t mention it once and that’s a significant flaw in the book, honestly.)

So I decided to write another Scotty book, set it in that period between the Saints winning the NFC Championship and the Super Bowl so I could document that time, and I also decided to bring the other side of his family–the Bradleys–into the mix and give him a cousin who actually was on the Saints team and kind of a dick.

It was around this time, when I was planning or writing the book, that same-sex marriage was in the news a lot. Several suits were winding their way through the courts, and public opinion–thoroughly anti-queer in 2004 when it was on the ballot on a lot of states–was starting to swing back the other way. There was an incident at a beauty pageant when Miss California (her name escapes me now) was asked by Perez Hilton (who shouldn’t be judging anything, frankly) about same-sex marriage. She had to say she was against it, and even apologized, saying “I’m sorry, it’s how I was raised!” as the crowd began booing and jeering. She didn’t win, and I actually felt like it was kind of a shitty question to ask, but on the other hand, California had passed Prop 8 in 2008 (which was kind of the catalyst for the public opinion change, I believe). I also have always believed the old “it’s how I was raised” is a copout for bad or unpopular opinions–most white people are raised racist, after all–and questioning and reevaluating values and beliefs you were raised with is part of the maturation process of becoming your own person. But I was willing to cut her a break–she was young, it was a “gotcha’ kind of question, and kind of unfair–until she doubled down and decided to became the Patron Saint of Homophobia, following in the pumps of another runner-up pageant queen who became the face of hate and bigotry, wrapping it all up in religion and “concern for children”: yep, the hateful old bitch Anita Bryant herself, may she burn in hell for all eternity. She didn’t last long–its hard to paint yourself as a martyr for family values when you’ve been caught sexting (and recording yourself masturbating to send your man–and that was the end of that. I decided to make the reigning Miss Louisiana a homophobe who got that question at Nationals and is now dating Scotty’s cousin the Saints player–and he brings her to Christmas, with the end result that she gets slugged by Scotty’s mother and their family storms out.

And the night the Saints win the NFC championship, she’s murdered.

It was fun because I got to involve a megachurch in Jefferson Parish (there actually is one), and a sordid history of her own that the beauty queen was keeping secret for her own reasons–(coughs LESBIAN coughs) and even got to bring some more past characters back into the mix, like Emily who worked at the Devil’s Weed, and I had a lot of fun with this look into the other side of Scotty’s family (the one I am working on now also deals with another branch of relatives).

And I got to write about the Saints winning the Super Bowl, which was even more awesome. This was the book where I really thought I was done with Scotty. The year after it came out, at the next Saints and Sinners, was when I was asked if I would do another Scotty book; this was when I made my famous reply, “if I can figure out a way to include Mike the LSU Tiger, Huey Long, and his deduct box into a book, I will write another Scotty book.”

Of course, later that night it hit me like a 2 by 4 across the forehead, and I made some notes that eventually became Baton Rouge Bingo.

Galveston

So here we are, on yet another Tuesday morning. Yesterday wasn’t a complete loss for me; I was very tired after going out and getting myself tested in the morning, so I came home and decided to take a “Greg Day”; no emails, no work,  and as little social media as possible. Easier said than done, of course, but you know–that’s how the ball bounces sometimes. I did get further into my reread of Ammie, Come Home (I always forget the damned comma in the title) by Barbara Michaels–one of the best Gothic ghost stories ever published, even if a little dated today–and I read a few chapters of Barbara Tuchman’s A Distant Mirror–the 14th century is my second favorite century, behind the 16th–and when my brain couldn’t focus to read, I watched some videos on Youtube that sent me into yet another wormhole, this one of videos about American Horror Story.

In my defense, it started with a video about Jessica Lange’s roles on the show, which led to Sarah Paulson, and Lily Rabe, and…you get the picture.

And then, of course, ESPN replayed that particular Monday night football game from back in September, 2006. That warm night when the Saints played their first home game since the 2004 season. A year after Katrina, when the roof came off the Superdome and people died and still others were trapped there for days. When the city was almost completely destroyed, its economy gone, her people scattered. Our futures were uncertain that bleak fall of 2005, and even throughout 2006, with our abbreviated Mardi Gras and frustratingly slow, it seemed, recovery. We’d almost lost the Saints to San Antonio when the city drowned, but they’d stayed–and the true hero of that was Tagliabue at the NFL, not Tom Benson–and now the Superdome, long a symbol of the city and now a monument to its worst moments, was ready to reopen and create a new identity for itself, just as the city was seeking to be reborn, just as those who lived here were waiting for hope. I remember that day in the city–I knew the Saints were winning but I was busy; the Lost Apartment was still lost and still wouldn’t be finished for another two months. All we had was a tiny old black and white portable television in the carriage house, whose carpet had been ripped up to be replaced but hadn’t yet so there were carpet tacks sticking up out of the bare, scarred exposed wood. We were sleeping on a mattress on top of a box spring on the floor. Paul’s desk and computer were set up in one corner of the room, the staircase and railing took up another side and the little television, which was rarely watched, sat on top of a dresser. I ran errands that day and sensed something in the air–I knew the Saints were winning games but wasn’t paying attention because I was busy trying to make a living and keep myself to the very strict schedule I had to follow in order to have the slightest chance of getting anything done. But i could feel it when I went out to the car, in the air. People were wearing Saints jerseys, or at least black and gold, everywhere I looked. Saints flags were flying on the front of houses (we take flags seriously in New Orleans). Everyone was in Saints gear–the post office, the grocery store, Walgreens, everywhere–and when I got home I looked it up on-line: yup, the Superdome was reopening for Monday Night Football, and we were playing the hated Falcons. Paul and I watched on that little black and white television, screaming and cheering and getting a little teary eyed.  It gave us something we hadn’t had in a long time–hope. They called the game both “ReBirth” and “Domecoming”; both fit.

And while the Saints had always been our team before, that night they became OUR TEAM. Even New Orleanians who weren’t football fans became Saints fans that night. And the sheer joy with which the team played that night was so apparent, and so obvious, and they made it so clear they were doing it for the city…I’ve rarely felt so connected with a football team the way I did with that 2006 Saints team.

As glorious as winning the Super Bowl was, I have to say I think the Domecoming game was probably the greatest moment in Saints history.

Watching the game last night during another social and societal upheaval–one that is affecting the entire world and not just us this time–reminded me of that feeling. Tears spilled out of my eyes once again as Steve Gleason blocked that punt and the Dome erupted; listening to that crowd, seeing their faces and the tears of joy on their faces…having something like the Saints to cheer for, to help us through the hard times, and to give us hope again for the first time since Katrina crossed southern Florida…it’s hard to explain that, I guess.

Try to imagine what it’s going to be like when we have sports again–or the first time you can go out to a restaurant again, or what it’s like to be free of this worry and burden and fear…heady stuff, frankly.

And now…now I am feeling tired again, so I am going to go lie down for a bit. Stay safe, everyone.

Evans1