The author (Staff Writer Barry Hirstius of Who Dat Dish) as a young teenager at age 13 before the 1981 season opener vs. the L.A. Rams; and 30 years later following the Saints victory in Super Bowl XLIV

5 Reasons Why I'll Always Love the New Orleans Saints

After I had finished co-hosting the Who Dat Confessional radio program (hosted by renowned  Saints writer Walter “Deuce” Windham) on BlogTalk Radio the other night, a friend of mine on Facebook sent me an instant message congratulating us on an entertaining two hours worth of material; and ended our conversation with a statement that took me aback somewhat. Noting all of the Saints-related workload that I’ve done in recent weeks at a time that’s considered the “slow season” by Saints fans (which finally ended unofficially yesterday at Greenbriar), she said: “you really do LOVE the Saints!” 

After an hour or so had passed and I settled in for the night before heading to bed, I thought about what she had said. She of course, was absolutely right.  I do love the New Orleans Saints, and unconditionally so. In fact, it’s been over 40 years now, dating back to when I attended my first ever game at the old Tulane Stadium on my 6th birthday. This upcoming 2014 football season in six more weeks will be my 41st as a Saints fan, and to be sure it’s been an incredible ride. The reasons why I love this team and devote so much of my time to it are indeed very many — but for the sake of this article, here are 5 of them that standout above all of the other ones.

 

Family Tradition

 

As I’ve mentioned in some of my previous work and in my writer’s profile, I attended my first-ever New Orleans Saints football game at the old Tulane Stadium as my 6th birthday (October 28, 1973) present / surprise provided by my late “Paw Paw” — my grandfather, John A. “Johnny” King. He is the person responsible for my love for the New Orleans Saints, (and for the world of sports in general) and quite honestly, it’s because of him that I ever wanted to do any of this.

My Paw Paw loved the New Orleans Saints. They had become his favorite team; and despite hailing originally from the borough of Queens, New York City, and a fan of previously of the New York Giants, he ‘adopted’ the Saints after their entrance to the NFL in November of 1966, nearly a year before my birth. He had moved down to New Orleans in the mid 1950’s, and then shortly thereafter had met a divorced mother of two boys (my maternal Grandmother Betty) while working as a men’s clothing salesman at Sears and Roebuck, Co. in downtown New Orleans.

He was an avid sports fan, and often spent his spare time enjoying his other favorite past times, which were horse racing (he attended both of the local tracks: the New Orleans Fair Grounds and the since torn-down suburban venue known as Jefferson Downs, and was an avid bettor; never going ANYWHERE without his daily racing form), and smoking his beloved Optimo cigars — which as it would eventually turn out, would take him away from my life for good; when throat cancer ravaged his body until he died in March of 1978, and leaving me with a tremendously large void in my life — one that I still feel every single day, some 35 plus years later.

My father is also a big Saints fan, having followed them of course since that year that the franchise began playing; the very same year in which my birth took place approximately at the halfway point of the 1967 season. My younger brother Steven, though never himself what I would call a big “sports fan” loves them as well; having destroyed many of his cell phones after angrily (and bitterly) throwing them at his TV in a state of complete disgust whenever they lose.  I’ll still never forget his demeanor after they won the Super Bowl in 2009, when he was estatically celebrating their triumph  — a significant departure from his always-serious and sometime solemn personality.

 

 

“Memories ….. in the Corners of my Mind”…..

 

Of course now that I’m about to enter into my 41st season as one of the original members of the Who Dat Nation (I guess that would have made my Paw Paw a founding member), I’ve been witness to alot of things. Some were actually good. Most however were pretty bad. The younger generation of Saints fans (which includes a majority of our Staff no less), is completely spoiled, not having been exposed to an entire generation of football that once upon a time made this franchise one of the most moribund, pathetic, laughed at, and absolute worst teams in the entire NFL.

One of the biggest things that I’ve become known for in my previous work before coming to Who Dat Dish, is my penchant for telling an array of different stories about Saints football. Wait a minute — did someone say stories??? Why, I’ve only got hundreds of them. Maybe even thousands. Unfortunately, a majority of them actually are about Saints LOSSES. For example, the 1978 season alone probably has 50 or so that I could tell. That was the team that went 7-9 that should have won 10 games easily, but incredibly lost a stretch of three heart-breaking games in consecutive weeks with last minute finishes by the opponent (two of those three were to Atlanta by the same score, 20-17) to “snatch victory from the jaws of defeat“.

There was the Christmas Eve 1983 season finale at the Superdome where an 8-7 Saints team coached by Bum Phillips; scored in the final minute to apparently seal a victory over the Los Angeles Rams which would give the Saints and their fans their first-ever Playoff appearance. It touched off a wild celebration akin to that of Mardi Gras (I was there in attendance as a 16 year old teenager), but the fans forgot that the Rams still had enough time to mount a desperation drive and get into range for a last second field goal. A minute later, Rams kicker Mike Lansford’s 50-yard field goal drove a stake through the hearts of Saints fans everywhere by giving the Rams a 26-24 victory. I was so depressed, that I didn’t want to go back to school after the Christmas holidays, afraid to face my friends and classmates that cheered for other teams like the Cowboys, Steelers, and 49’ers.

Then, there was the game that to this very day, I still consider the greatest Saints game that I’ve ever seen: the 1979 season opener at home in the Superdome against the Atlanta Falcons. When the 1979 Saints season schedule was released, that season-opening game at the Superdome was one of the most highly anticipated games of the year in the entire NFL. The hype leading up to the game was intense, as was the trash-talk being exchanged between the two fan-bases in the weeks leading up to kickoff. Local New Orleans radio station WEZB (B-97) FM had printed up some t-shirts that read: “I Hate the Falcons”, and I wore one proudly to the game. From my recollection, the interaction between the two fan-bases prior to the start of the game was cordial and good-natured; which was a far cry from what would take place following the game’s conclusion.

In a wild game of big plays (including a brilliant bit of Saints trickery with a Saints halfback option pass from RB Chuck Muncie to WR Wes Chandler for a TD) and incredilble “back and forth” battle for momentum between the teams, the game went into overtime tied at 34-34. In the climactic play of the game, the Saints were lined up on fourth-and-six at their 32 for a punt. A bad snap by C John Watson sailed some four feet over Erxleben’s head, and the rookie kicker had to give chase. The ball rolled inside the five toward the goal line, where Erxleben grabbed it and tried to toss a two-handed pass to avoid a possible safety. Rookie LB James Mayberry, who was bearing down fast on Erxleben, pulled the throw out of the air and ran six yards untouched into the end zone for the improbable winning touchdown. Atlanta came away with yet another stunning but thrilling win over the Saints by a score of 40-34; or as the New Orleans Times Picayune newspaper would painfully note the irony of the game’s outcome with this fact next day: (20-17 x 2 = 40-34).

After the game-ending play, we sat in our seats for a minute or two to completely soak in what had happened, then prepared to leave. The Atlanta fans, many whom had bussed in for the weekend and were either staying at local hotels or on the bus itself, began a wild celebration within the concourses throughout the Superdome. It was a maddening, mob-like scene as we tried to weave our way through the crowd, and by this time there were minor little scuffles starting to occur around us, mostly just people getting up in each other’s faces and trash-talking one another. We witnessed numerous arrests made by N.O.P.D. as we dashed for the exit and headed toward the Hyatt Regency Hotel directly across the street, going back the same way where we’d always enter into the Superdome complex on Sunday gamedays.

As we had turned the next corner, there just across the street in plain view of everyone, were three young Falcons fans (dressed in Falcons memorabilia), kicking and punching a man who had to have been in his 60′s (perhaps even older) dressed in black and gold Saints gear. He was yelling and screaming out for help, but there weren’t any police around (or any other Saints fans nearby capable of giving him any help; other than me as an 11-year old kid or my elderly Aunt and Uncle who had taken me to the game that day).

As we moved further away, I looked back to see them pulverizing the man; kicking him repeatedly with the occasional blow delivered with fists of fury. He had stopped yelling, I assume because he had been rendered unconscious. Maybe it was 10 seconds later (though it seemed like an eternity) when we heard sirens, and saw the three young men scatter in every direction as NOPD arrived on the scene, albeit not in time to have saved that man from the most savage of beatings. In recent years, I’ve been always asked by younger Saints fans WHY the Saints-Falcons arch-rivalry exists and how it all started. That’s the story that I usually tell them in response, so they can get a true grasp of it all. Yes, I’ve got plenty of memories of New Orleans Saints football; and I’m looking forward to having a lot more of them.

 

My Hometown Team

 

I won’t spend alot of time talking about this one, becuase it’s the most obvious one of all. My love for the New Orleans Saints is in essence, merely an extension of the love and admiration that I have for the city of my bithplace: New Orleans, Louisiana. There’s no place like New Orleans. There isn’t nor will there ever be any place else that can even come close. It’s an integral part of WHO I am. It influences everything that I do; including the appearance of both my Facebook and Twitter pages on social media, and my interaction with other people. My nickname among Saints fans (also my Twitter handle) is actually a self-given acknowledgement / tribute to the suburb of New Orleans (Harahan, in Jefferson Parish) that I grew up in as a young kid. Since I live in Indiana now approximately an hour’s drive southwest of Indianapolis; believe me when I tell you that wearing a Drew Brees Saints jersey among a local populace that is constantly sporting blue Andrew Luck Colts jerseys —  isn’t always a welcome thing.

 

 

Rebuilding a Community

 

Like a lot of people that live in New Orleans, the date of August 29th, 2005 is one permanently etched into the history of our lives. That was the day of course that Hurricane Katrina hit southeastern Louisiana and southwestern Mississippi, and nearly devestated the city of New Orleans and the surrounding region. Fifty-three different levees were breached, 80 percent of the city was flooded and over 1,800 lives would be lost. I happened to be among one of those foolish NOT to evacuate, choosing to ride out the storm. It proved to be an unwise decision — one that found me being rescued by first responders from the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries a few hours later, from a raised “shotgun” house (in suburban Arabi in St. Bernard Parish) full of water up to our necks.

Months later as the city and the community of residents tried to pick up the pieces of their lives and recover what was lost, it was the New Orleans Saints football franchise that took the lead; and was “on point” from that moment on in the rebuilding process. It’s been almost nine years now since Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans. The city has come back strong and no one should underestimate the role the Saints played in that. The city, as it was before Katrina, and as it is once again, is beautiful. Around the Superdome now in 2014, traffic moves along. People move along. Businesses are open. It’s actually been this way for some time. The Saints are more popular now and have had more success in recent years than they did in their entire history before the storm. To say that the Saints’ recent success has uplifted the psyche of the NOLA community and the region that surrounds it, would be an understatement.

It was the Saints organization, including both players and coaches, who became personally involved with the rebuilding effort. By doing so, they endeared themselves to both fans and residents who didn’t (and still don’t) care about sports alike. My brother and I had season tickets that following season in 2006, and we were in attendance at the famous Monday Night home opener (which featured the blocked Falcons punt by Saints safety and special teams ace Steve Gleason; now immortalized by a statue outside the Superdome) that still stands as a watershed moment in the city and region’s recovery. If there was ever any doubt how much the Saints meant to New Orleans and the surrounding region throughout the team’s now 47 year history, it was removed on that night.

 

New Era of Success

 

I’ll always love the New Orleans Saints because they’ve finally become a source of pride for me personally. It’s definitely a big change from the years that they caused me to suffer never-ending heartache and grief; making me to feel as if I had to go and hide after every loss so I could avoid ridicule from friends. When the Saints won Super Bowl XLIV a few years ago, I fell to my knees and cried like a baby as the final seconds ticked off of the clock. They were tears of joy because they had won the World Championship. They also were tears of bittersweet sadness, as I thought about all of the people that are no longer with us — that never got to see the ultimate moment in the history of this thing that is called New Orleans Saints football.

The Saints are 80-48 in the regular season under the dynamic duo of  GM Mickey Loomis and head coach Sean Payton, with a 6-4 Playoff record that includes the World Championship won after the 2009 season in Super Bowl XLIV in Miami. The Saints have become a perennial contender under their guidance, and the 2014 season promises to be one of great potential. To say that I’m excited about that prospect would be putting it mildly. It’s just yet another reason why I’ll always love the New Orleans Saints.

 

 

 

 

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Tags: Hurricane Katrina New Orleans Saints 2014 New Orleans Saints History Super Bowl XLIV

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