Super Bowl XLIV in Miami will be the New Orleans Saints’ first time at the big game — the Indianapolis Colts won the Super Bowl at Dolphin Stadium only three years ago. That’s put a significant amount of pressure on the team, which many expect will face an uphill battle against league MVP Peyton Manning and the 14-2 Colts.
But the pressure’s nothing new for all-star quarterback Drew Brees, who beat his own difficult odds as a struggling quarterback whose career was left for dead just a few short years ago. Right after his team defeated the Minnesota Vikings in the NFC Championship to advance to the historic game, Brees left a note to fans on Twitter that praised the “passion and resiliency of our community and the bond we have as a team and fan base.” He added: “We love you, New Orleans!”
A quick look at some football fans in New Orleans, past and present, shows just how mutual that feeling is less than a week before the opening kickoff in Miami.
(Short version: It’s pretty friggin’ mutual. Even the judicial system’s shutting down over this thing down there.)
Immediately after the Saints clinched that first-ever Super Bowl berth, Fat Harry’s — a uptown bar miles from the Superdome and the historic French Quarter — hosted a scene that would play out all across the city for hours on end. Passing cars honked wantonly, party-goers erupted into spontaneous chants and festive jazz music filled St. Charles Avenue. At first, this might not seem too out of place in New Orleans. But this wasn’t Mardi Gras. For the city’s thousands of Saints fans, it was history, a once-in-a-lifetime chance to see the hometown team on the national stage.
Carl Huling, long-time owner of the landmark Fat Harry’s, died on Feb. 2 at age 57. Though derided by some as a “frat hangout” or a crowded tourist spot come Mardi Gras, Fat Harry’s was one of the first uptown hot spots to reopen after Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans in August 2005. Huling won’t be able to see it, but on Feb. 7, the Saints plan on letting the world know that, four years after the storm that destroyed the Dome, they’re back, too.
Of course, thanks to U2 and Green Day, the NFL had fair warning that “The Saints Are Coming.” The two rock bands performed a cover of the song, originally by the Scottish punk rock band Skids, during the Monday Night Football pregame show at the Superdome on Sept. 25, 2006. The date is significant for Saints fans — not only because the team claimed an unexpected 23-3 victory over the Atlanta Falcons that would predicate a successful and symbolic season, but because because it marked the first game the Saints would play in the refurbished Superdome after Hurricane Katrina turned the structure into a makeshift emergency shelter.
You can catch Chris Milk’s official music video of the song here, though it’s saddled with a political message and loses some of the Dome’s electric atmosphere in post-production. As any Saints fan will tell you, “Y’all had to be there.”
If you have had the good fortune of attending a Saints home game in the Superdome, you’ve certainly heard this Ying Yang Twins song (full version here), which plays every time the Saints kickoff squad takes the field after a New Orleans touchdown. It’s not really clear what the Twins are saying in this studio interview*, but fans and players alike have made it abundantly clear that they like what they hear from the two.
“It’s fun. Music comes on — you’re getting hyped up, the crowd’s into it,” Saints cornerback Malcolm Jenkins told local news station WWLTV. “It’s just fun with me. I like to have fun with it.”
“Oh, the place goes crazy,” agreed Dana Yuratich, a Saints enthusiast. “Everybody gets up dancing. From kids to older adults, you see them all getting up dancing, showing their black and gold in true colors.”
*One thing that we were able to discern from the interview is that the Twins define “getting crunk” as becoming excited and enjoying the football experience — which is, needless to say, a starkly different definition from what’s commonly accepted on Urban Dictionary, the Web’s oracle for all things urban.
Even this season, the road to the Super Bowl wasn’t exactly an easy one for many New Orleans fans, despite the Saints posting a franchise-best 13-3 record and clinching the #1 seed in the NFC. Wayne Spring of Albany, La., found that out cajun-style after betting his television that the much-maligned Washington Redskins would defeat the 11-0 Saints. It’s not exactly clear what Wayne would’ve gotten from his crazed friends if the Redskins had prevailed (maybe something a little slimmer, more environmentally conscious, and easier to view for long periods from multiple angles than a rear-projection television), but what makes this video harder to watch is just how close he came to winning the long-shot bet.
Sure, the Redskins entered the game with the league’s top-rated pass defense, and Saints quarterback Drew Brees cut through them like butter with a whopping 419 yards through the air. The impressive statistic belies just how close the Redskins came to a shocking upset. The Saints’ victory depended on the Redskins kicker missing a 23-yard fourth-quarter chip shot just to stay alive, as well as more than a handful of terrible plays that somehow yielded positive results for the black and gold (most notably an interception that Saints receiver Robert Meachem somehow managed to snatch away and return for a touchdown).
”I don’t know about the voodoo, but I definitely believe in destiny,” Brees said after the game.
It’s a safe bet Wayne Spring isn’t destined to gamble against his home team come Super Bowl XLIV.
If there’s one thing we can learn from Wayne, which there almost certainly isn’t, it’s that Saints fans can find a way to make even the most tense situation into a manageable one. Even though he knew full well that his $1,500 television was about to be mercilessly shot to pieces by some of the more rural elements of the Who Dat Nation, Wayne kept his cheery demeanor throughout. So too did these fans — with the help of their four-legged friend Beagle, of course, who led them enthusiastically in a chant of “Who Dat?” (ATTN NFL: NO TRADEMARK INFRINGEMENT INTENDED)
The impromptu cheer came during a tense instant overtime replay review during the NFC Championship game that, if it hadn’t gone the Saints way, would have resulted in a turnover on downs and given the Minnesota Vikings the kind of field position that would all but guarantee a heartbreaking Saints defeat.
A few days after the miracle win in the Dome, Saints fans — many still drunk with excitement — came out in force to honor the memory of legendary local broadcaster Buddy Diliberto, who passed away back in 2005. Diliberto had promised to wear a dress if the Saints ever made it to the Super Bowl, so his successor on WWL radio, former Saints quarterback Bobby Hebert, dutifully honored that pledge. (More specifically, Buddy D, as Diliberto is commonly known, said, “I’m going to wear a dress and dance through the streets.”)
He was accompanied by thousands of fans paying their respects to Buddy D in their own ways, all along the parade route from the Superdome to the French Quarter. “Who Dat in Heaven — Buddy D,” read a sign by Oceana Grill, located just off Bourbon Street.
One of the broadcaster’s now-famous quips: “The Saints lead in time of obsession.” Almost five years after Buddy’s death, the statement’s truer than ever.