The question on the lips of every NFL analyst over the past three weeks is "What has happened to the New Orleans Saints?"
After a miraculous trip to the NFC Championship, the Saints have lost three straight. This "surprising" change has taken all the hot air out of the sportscaster balloon, leaving them ready to write off the 2006 season as a fluke and to pronounce this season as over. All I can say is, y'all don't know a damn thing about what it's like to be a Saints fan. Sports fans, this is what being a Saints fan is like: brief moments of ecstasy followed by long stretches of sadness.
Hurricane Katrina converted many football watchers to the Saints' cause, but any Saints fan will tell you that nothing is a given when it comes to Saints football. Every moment in a Saints game is loaded with the terrible feeling that it is all about to go horribly wrong. Every good play cannot be enjoyed until you are positive both feet are in bounds and there are no flags. Somehow, even when the Saints are winning, everything almost falls apart. Look at last year's divisional game against the Eagles, or their first playoff victory against the Rams in 2001: Saints football is always a study in victory soaring on the verge of catastrophe. After all, the Saints have had only had 8 winning seasons in their 40-year history. That's not a typo: 8 winning seasons out of 40. We fans take this as a fact of life. For many, it's even the story of their lives.
Naturally, mainstream sports analysts don't get this. They get paid to cover dynasties, not minor coups, so now they're heaping loads of pressure on the Saints to perform the way they expect them to. Why? First of all, they're royally embarrassed. They dubbed the Saints "America's Team" last year, and an 0-3 start does not make all the commentators look too swift, so they've got their million dollar egos to consider. More importantly, though, the Saints are killing the media's collective buzz. They want to use the Saints' success as a metaphor for the rebirth of a broken city. If the Saints are winning, then they can talk endlessly about how New Orleans is coming back from Katrina, how nothing can kill the spirit of N'awlins and other empty platitudes they heard in their hotel lobby before the game. These fair weather sportscasters are right about one thing: the Saints are pretty much the only thing New Orleanians can believe in right now. It's a double-edged sword: when the Saints lose, everyone is poised to forget about the greatest city in America; when the Saints win, everyone's ready to declare victory in the Big Easy and go back home. Either way, the city does not get better.
And this leads me to a sad thought about the city and how the New Orleans Saints are the perfect representatives of its tribulations. As much as everyone wants to look at every small sign of vitality in the city and proclaim victory, it ain't that simple. Victory is a long way off, too far away for anyone outside the city to care about and too far away for anyone in the city to bear. News anchors and many others want to believe that everything is getting better each day. Having recently visited the city, I can't say that, nor would I encourage anyone to think that. The city is not back, the city is not on the road to recovery--the city is on life support. You can cover it in powdered sugar, but that don't make it a beignet.
But this doesn't make sense to broadcasters who have already decided to go with a feel-good angle. In fact, this disappoints them. The reality is not as important as the message they want to convey, so if the reality doesn't match the story they have in mind, then they'll just go find their malleable reality somewhere else.
This is what upsets me more than anything: the poor performance by the Saints so far will serve as justification for the media to turn away from the city. Because no one wants to hear about a losing team from a fallen city. That doesn't fit the script. Just ask Detroit. How many heartwarming Lions stories have you heard lately? The media only knows how to sell upbeat, so, New Orleans, they say, call us when you get something like We Are Marshall or The Rookie. Until then, we can fill our time talking about Tom Brady.
So, when the sportscasters speculate on whether or not the Saints can still make the playoffs this year, I can easily say that I don't care. We Saints fans know better than that. We've only won two playoff games in 40 years, and while we'd like to win more, we're not greedy. We're just hoping to get above .500, which is the statistical equivalent of keeping our heads above water, and, when you really think about it, that is all New Orleanians can ask for.