Won Over by the Saints

Oh, how I want to be in that number.

I am not a football fan, but I’ve often thought that I should be.

My grandfather, beloved by a generation of men in my hometown, is often simply referred to as “Coach.” He led the high school team to a series of championships, the glorious heights of which they’ve never achieved in the 30 years since. My uncles and my dad, along with a bunch of my classmates’ dads, all played ball for him. I grew up spending Saturday afternoons reading while an outraged chorus of “What!?!” filled the air as my dad argued with refs’ calls and cheered on his teams. As a member of the marching band, I did spend Friday nights at football games — but my friends and I paid so little attention to the action on the field that we inevitably ended up cheering for friends who were standing below on the sidelines. Oops.

This playoff season, though, I can’t help but be interested. I wasn’t — unlike my husband and our many Baltimore-area friends — rooting for the Ravens. No, my allegiance, such as it is (what’s a field goal again?), is with the Saints. The New Orleans Saints, who have never been to a championship game in the franchise’s 40-year history, are now one win away from the Super Bowl. And after the decimation of my favorite city a year ago, how can I not cheer on their team?

I love New Orleans. When there’s a shot of Jackson Square on during the football coverage, I get wistful. I remember walking up to the river with my grandfather, watching a mime perform on the steps the summer I was 13. On my second visit, my family took a ride on one of the flowery mule-drawn carriages — and when my mom later bought a big straw hat adorned with flowers, we teased her that she looked like one of the mules. On a graduation trip, my now-husband and I walked to the Café du Monde for beignets and café au lait one night and saw someone feeding a clowder of stray cats in the Square. Another crowd shot of Bourbon Street reminds me of the summer before Katrina, when a group of friends and I drank fruity concoctions the size of our heads and then sang karaoke.

Football and New Orleans: it’s a perfect mix of nostalgia for me. I may not be the best football fan (what’s a running back, exactly?), but I’m rooting for the Saints.

Article © 2007 by Jessica Emanuel