Maybe 2012 will be the end of the world. If the New Orleans Saints making it to the Super Bowl isn't a sign that it's the End Times, then I may lose faith in the apocalypse altogether.
It's impossible to describe how the people of this area have reacted to this one sporting event. On Monday, the Large Southern University where I work looked like it does on Ash Wednesday morning,* except about half the people who made it in were wearing black and gold. It has dominated the local papers every day. Fleur de lis earrings and hats and shirts and ties and pretty much anything else you can imagine are showing up everywhere. My hair stylist, who pretty much hates football, couldn't shut up about it. Actually, no one can shut up about it.
Picture from here
I am not immune. Even though I have become more circumspect in recent years where Big Sport is concerned, I have been a Saints fan since Archie Manning was the team's quarterback, long before I lived in this area. I liked them initially, not in spite of their keystone cop incompetence, but almost because of it. When I'm watching a team so bad that they inspire their fans to wear grocery bags over their heads, I feel I am among my people. Saints fans have always understood that winning is important, but passing a good time with good people is what really counts. The Saints have flirted with greatness before, but we always had faith that it wouldn't stick.
Somehow it all got more serious after the hurricane. A lot has been written about what the Saints have meant to New Orleans since Katrina. Some of it is probably even true. The players and coaches have carried a heavy load these last four years. What makes me respect them more is that they took it upon themselves. For the most part, the players welcomed the association, and gave their money, their time and their talent to creating something good to people who desperately needed something good.
Maybe the most miraculous thing the Saints have managed to do is redeem the Superdome. The Dome is as much a symbol of the city to area residents as the French Quarter, or drive-through daiquiri shops. After Katrina it became a symbol of despair, disillusionment and all that was lost. Many people thought it should be demolished. For most of the rest of us it was going to be an enormous, painful reminder of a time we would rather forget, impossible to miss on a drive into downtown New Orleans. This past Sunday it was the place we most wanted to be, and the pain was blasted away in the roar of the 72,000 faithful, screaming and crying with joy for a day they never thought would come.
There are a lot of reasons why the Saints probably shouldn't win the Super Bowl. Many of them are the same reasons they were not going to defeat Minnesota on Sunday. And everyone's luck runs out sooner or later. But I wouldn't bet against them. And win or lose, with the Saints in the Super Bowl a little over a week before Mardi Gras, the Gulf Coast will be rocking it like a hurricane. It should be a weekend to remember.
*Ash Wednesday is the day after Mardi Gras. The university doesn't even try to have classes until after noon that day.