Thursday, February 4, 2010

Why I'm Rooting for the Saints

Super Bowl XLIV -- that's 44 for those of you not yet infected with gridhypeitis -- will be played this Sunday, at Sun Life Stadium, the once-again-renamed home of the Miami Dolphins, in the Miami suburbs. It will kick off at around 6:30 PM Eastern Time. The opposing teams will be the AFC Champion Indianapolis Colts and the NFC Champion New Orleans Saints.

The Colts won the Super Bowl just 3 seasons ago, and, in their Baltimore incarnation, also won NFL Championships in 1958, 1959 and 1970-71 (Super Bowl V). The Saints are in their 1st Super Bowl in 43 seasons of trying.

I used to have several reasons not to like Indiana. But there's no point now. The reasons I'm rooting for the Saints are as follows:

* They've waited longer.

* Peyton Manning, Rutgers man Gary Brackett, and most of the current Colts already have a ring -- including head coach Jim Caldwell, an assistant to Tony Dungy 3 years ago.

* The State of Louisiana has suffered so much, even if you look beyond Hurricane Katrina.

* Louisiana's Bill Dickey helped the Yankees win a lot more Pennants than Indiana's Don Mattingly. (Okay, that was cheap shot.)

* The Saints have Reggie Bush, whose girlfriend is Kim Kardashian; the Colts have Hank Baskett, whose wife is Kendra Wilkinson. (So much for "You on your own now.")

Now, my rooting for the Saints has nothing to do with the Colts having beaten the Jets. Although my sister, a Jet fan, is taking the Colts for that reason.

When I was a kid, if the Yankees lost the Division, or won it but lost the ALCS, I automatically rooted against the team that beat them for the rest of the season. In 1979, I wanted the California Angels (which didn't work) and then the Pittsburgh Pirates (which did) over the Baltimore Orioles.

In 1980, I wanted the Philadelphia Phillies over the Kansas City Royals (the Phils won). In 1981, it didn't matter, as the Yanks lost the World Series to the Los Angeles Dodgers, and that was it. In 1982, the Yanks bombed out, with the Milwaukee Brewers winning the AL East (seriously), but I had no trouble rooting for the Angels in the ALCS, as they had my man Reggie. But the Brewers won, and yet for some reason I think I rooted for them against the St. Louis Cardinals in the Series (the Cards won). In 1983, I rooted for first the Chicago White Sox, then the Phils, over the Orioles (neither of which worked).

By 1984, I realized how immature this was. Or maybe, regardless of how badly the Detroit Tigers beat the Yanks that year, I couldn't bring myself to root for George "Hemmorrhoid" Brett and the Royals in the ALCS.

The Colts are favored, as they should be. And there's nothing wrong with rooting for them. Peyton Manning really did move, this season, from the level of superstar to the level of the all-time greats. He, not Brett Favre, or John Elway, is the greatest quarterback since the glory days of Joe Montana.

But I think that, outside of Indiana and the people who love Peyton's commercials, the Saints are America's Team. (Shut up, Cowboy fans, you front-running cocksuckers.) God knows, they've earned that, with the way they rallied the City of New Orleans, and indeed the entire State of Louisiana, after Hurricane Katrina. They became the symbol of the restoration of one of America's most significant cities.

Now, winning the Super Bowl wouldn't "finish the job." No city sees all its problems come to an end when its team wins a Super Bowl, a World Series, a Stanley Cup, or whatever. But it will be closure for the time of trial that began with the hurricane.

What does Indiana have, in their entire history, to match that? A few tornadoes? The average person outside Indiana can't cite a single terrible thing that happened there. (Indeed, Indianapolis, thanks to a conciliatory speech that Robert Kennedy made there, was one of the few cities that didn't have race riots in the aftermath of the assassination of Martin Luther King.) In contrast, everyone knows about Katrina. There are people who might ordinarily root for the Colts, possibly because of Manning, who are supporting the Saints because of their role in the Crescent City's rebirth.

Don't go to a bookie with these picks. If I'm going with my head, it'll be Colts 34, Saints 14. But if I'm going with my heart... Saints 21, Colts 17.

I think we'll all want to be in that number when the Saints go marching in.

Although... In the last few years, we've seen the Patriots win 3 Super Bowls, the Broncos 2, one each for the Rams and Buccaneers (no, I haven't been smoking pot). At least getting into one over that stretch have been the Falcons, the Titans (formerly the Oilers), the Panthers (who didn't even freaking exist until 1995), the Eagles, the Seahawks and, I still can't believe it, the Cardinals.

If those teams can at least get into the Super Bowl, and some of them can even win one, why can't the Jets?

(Because they're the New York Jets, that's why.)


Days until the Devils play another local rival: 2, Saturday night, at Madison Square Garden against The Scum. Then a home-and-home with those other bastards, the Philadelphia Flyers.

Days until the 2010 Winter Olympics begin in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, right here on this continent, if not in this country: 8, next Friday night.

Days until the NHL's Olympic break ends (at least for the Devils): 26.

Days until Opening Day of the 2010 baseball season: 59, the Yankees playing the Red Sox at Fenway for the ESPN Sunday-night season-opener. Under 2 months.

Days until the next North London Derby between Arsenal and Tottenham: 65.

Days until the Yankees' 2010 home opener: 68. Under 10 weeks.

Days until the 2010 World Cup begins: 126.

Days until the World Cup Final: 157.

Days until Rutgers plays football again: 212.

Days until the new Meadowlands Stadium (still unnamed) opens: 213.

Days until East Brunswick plays football again: 218.

Days until the next East Brunswick-Old Bridge Thanksgiving clash: 294.

Days until Derek Jeter collects his 3,000th career hit: 482.

Days until the Rutgers-Army football game at Yankee Stadium: 646.

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