It’s Super Bowl Eve and I’m terrified, afraid of what could happen to the New Orleans Saints on Sunday night. This improbable season has perhaps made a lot of people forget that Saints fans are a worrisome bunch. We’ve spent the overwhelming majority of the last four decades waiting for the other shoe to drop. Nine winning seasons in 40-plus years will do that to a fanbase.
My father was one of the first people to get season tickets heading into the ’67 inaugural season at Tulane Stadium. He brought my older brother to games at the Superdome beginning in the late 70s. My dad got me to love the Saints from as early as I can remember.
Oddly enough, my earliest memory of the Saints’ misfortune came in a playoff game – the team’s first postseason appearance. It was against the Vikings. The Saints were blown out 44-10, and Rueben Mayes was injured and never the same player. My paternal grandparents had a Saints’ schedule poster in their kitchen and had written the scores on the poster all year long. Every time I visited, I had to look up at this poster and see that 44-10 score. I was seven-years-old, but my thirst for football vengeance was blooming.
Of course, the Saints went 12-3 that year, so surely there would be plenty more playoff trips. After all, we had one of the best defenses in the league. The only problem was we played in the same division as Joe Montana and Jerry Rice. Damn it all. The Saints had a three-year run of playoff appearances at the beginning of the 90s, but that was it – playoff drought thereafter.
In 2000, in their 33rd year of existence, the Saints finally won a playoff game, only to be thwarted yet again by the Minnesota Vikings in the Divisional Round. And again, my football vengeance was denied. But again, the thought was that we would see the playoffs again. We had the Coach of the Year in Jim Haslett and a young, mobile, athletic quarterback named Aaron Brooks.
By the bitter end of the Haslett-Brooks era (or “error” as my friends and I called it), culminating with home games played in Baton Rouge, San Antonio and New York City because of Hurricane Katrina, all I wanted was a coach that didn’t have a deer in the headlights look on his face, and a quarterback who actually show frustration over throwing an interception and not grin like a child.
I’m not rehashing the four years of the Payton-Brees era since it’s still fresh in everyone’s memory.
Instead, I’m returning to my initial sentiment: being terrified coming into the Super Bowl. I don’t know if I would say I’m always waiting for something to go wrong with the Saints. (I’d be higher strung, if it were even possible.) I tend to think of all the things that can go wrong. Perhaps I’ve read the Hagakure too much and tricked my mind into always thinking about horrible things. I blame the movie “Ghost Dog: Way of the Samurai.”
And while I’m in favor of the bye week between the NFC and AFC Championship Games, I’ve spent the last 13 days with a sense of looming dread. I can see the Colts running up the score early en route to a repeat of the Niners-Chargers Super Bowl; I picture Peyton Manning dispensing the ball with deadly accuracy and embarrassing the Saints’ secondary on his way to a near perfect QB rating and a second Super Bowl MVP trophy. I’ve even pictured injuries to Saints players during the game. I won’t go into greater detail for fear it might happen.
And I’ve become increasingly superstitious as the season wore on. I’ll be watching this Super Bowl not at a friend’s house or at some party with co-workers, but at the bar I’ve frequented this whole year. And I plan to wear the same clothes I’ve had on for the previous playoff games against the Cardinals and Vikings. I even shaved an awkward “playoff beard” for this magical run. I had the intention of going for a Chester A. Arthur look but instead look like the lead singer of a poor man’s Creedence Clearwater Revival cover band.
See, I think if you caught most Saints fans in their private moments when they were weren’t imbibing booze and whatever else to get them in a partying mood, they’d probably be the same way. We’re scared, but not doubters. We want confidence, but not cockiness. This team has instilled a sense of confidence in the fanbase over the course of this year. We believe we belong in the Super Bowl. We know we belong in the game.
But here is the hardest part: we believe we’re capable of winning, but do we possess confidence that the team can? I think so.
Because for all the horrible images that fill my head of the Colts throttling the Saints, or watching Peyton Manning lead a game-winning drive in the waning moments of the fourth quarter, I can also picture Drew Brees lobbing a 40-yard bomb to Devery Henderson for a touchdown, or imagine Pierre Thomas barreling over a defender for a score. I can’t control my fears of watching the team I love lose on Sunday, but I can hopefully temper them with the belief of a Saints victory.