The New Orleans Saints and Los Angeles Kings have had more in common over the years than any of us may have realized. Both franchises were established in 1967 and have endured 40+ years of futility, frustration, and heartbreak. All of the disappointment has come to an end for our respective fan bases thanks to the Saints magical Super Bowl run in 2009 and the Kings equally impressive Stanley Cup journey in 2012.
The Saints and Kings have had two of the longest waits for their first title in the history of American professional sports. As a Saints fan, I can tell you it was worth the wait and I wouldn't change a thing. Kings fans have expressed the same sentiment to me as well.
In an offseason of turmoil, mistrust, and misinformation, I found hope and fond memories in the most unlikely of places: LA Kings fans and the City of Angels itself.
I was born in New Orleans, thus born a Saints fan naturally, but was raised here in Southern California. I've been in Los Angeles for nearly 20 years and have been a hockey fan for the same amount of time. Although I've been a die hard Red Wings fan all these years I have always had respect for the Kings and their fans. Many of my friends over the years being Kings fans themselves.
We have suffered in many of the same ways over the years and now we both know the feeling of standing on the mountaintop, having finally won the elusive hardware we all desired with such agonizing passion. From tears of pain and heartbreak to tears of thanks and joy, we've earned the respect we all waited our lives as fans for.
My friends as Kings fans learned a lot about their recent journey from me and I learned a lot about myself as a Saints fan from them. As the Kings unlikely run to the Cup began to grow from inconceivable to inevitable, I started fielding various questions from friends about what to expect during a title run and what my experiences were as a Saints fan during the 2009 season and 2010 postseason. Go figure, a Saints fan telling anyone what being a champion feels like, and what to expect. My how times have changed!
I've been told how they have cheered for guys like Luc Robitaille and Ian Laperriere in past Stanley Cup Finals just to have a rooting interest. Past Kings who had to leave for greener pastures to chase that elusive Cup. How many times had we as Saints fans done that in the past? Too many to count. Rooting for former Saints or New Orleans natives in the Super Bowl seemed to be the closest thing we would get to the title. Rickey Jackson made it, we made it! Manning did it, we did it! Well, it was something during those long Saints-less postseasons.
In different conversations I've had since the Kings run began and now that the elusive Stanley Cup has been won, I have given some advice to my friends. It is in this advice that I realized that I need to practice what I preach and we as Saints fans need to take a step back to reflect on how far we've come. Some things I experienced and told them about were:
There will be a moment it really hits you
When LA won the conference title there was a lot of joy among fans, but almost some disbelief as well. There will be a single moment it all feels real to you though. That moment will be different for all fans but you'll know it when it happens. When the Saints won the NFC title, I felt the joy and euphoria but it also felt surreal. Was this really finally happening for us? For days it was like a dream I hoped not to wake from. My moment of realization was a small one but it was very symbolic for me as a lifelong Saints fan.
The first time I saw images of the Saints end zone at Sun Life Stadium was a stunning moment for me. Seeing the gold end zone with the black font and the fleur de lis made we well up with pride. It was a small thing that resonated with me. Always seeing other teams names in those end zones all these years, but now it was our team and our turn.
Winning a title is expensive
Championship Hats, T-Shirts, commemorative magazines, books, official towels, patches, pennants, Blu-Rays and/or DVDs. This is just the beginning of the purchases that are made after wining the title, especially after a lifetime of waiting for it. I remember seeing the XLIV logo the first time in '09 and thinking how ugly it was. Now, it's truly a thing of beauty to behold, and it is the last unique Super Bowl logo before the NFL's rebranding. I wear that logo all over the place now, go figure. Winning a title is a blast but it's killer on the bank account.
Prepare for a surprisingly short offseason
Being in the midst of this ridiculously long offseason has really made me reflect on the post-XLIV offseason. It stands to reason that your offseason will be shorter than usual after a championship season because you are playing for a month, sometimes longer, than the other teams. Mentally though, it seems like you can't wait for the next season to start following the disappointment of falling short of a title. Conversely, when you win it all you don't want the party to stop.
People want to start discussing who "the next Saints" will be and will start prematurely crowning new and "hungrier" teams that will take your place. You never get enough time to soak it in. Even on the Super Bowl podium or at center ice with the Cup, reporters will ask coaches and players if they will repeat, or if they will retire, or if they will sign a new contract. How about a moment to celebrate, everybody!
Don't be a victim of the teams success
Many of us as Saints fans have fallen victim to this. We are so caught up in the need to win Super Bowls as the only measure of success that we can't even celebrate a 13-3 season. Instead of celebrating 13-3 many of us say, If we only had won at St. Louis we'd be Super Bowl Champions right now. I'm one of the worst offenders of this. Instead of looking back at the Giants, Falcons, and Lions games last season, I look back at St. Louis and what could've been.
That's just terrible, What I and many other Saints fans would've given for a 13-3 season just 4 or 5 years ago. Don't let your perspectives get too far out of control. There obviously is a championship window where you expect the most from your teams, but many times it's the unlikely teams that win it all, like the Kings.
Lastly, and most importantly:
Enjoy the ride
Like the old saying goes: Getting there is half the fun. When we get so close to the title, we just want to win at all costs and get it done in as few games as possible. We don't realize until it's over that the journey was just as exciting as the silver trophy at the end of it. The journey to the mountaintop is what make the story enjoyable. The Lord of the Rings would've been a terrible story if Frodo just melted down the ring at his house, right?
We look back at the '09 season with reverence and astonishment but we may have missed many of the nuances live as they happened because we were so overcome with the need to win and advance. We have DVDs and DVR recordings to reminisce about that incredible season but you can never go back again and re-live it as it unfolded. There will be other championship seasons and maybe even better championship seasons, but you'll never get that first one back.
Soak in every moment, every victory, and yes, even every failure. They all make up the chapters of a storybook tale of that first championship season. I'll never forget ours, and sometimes I wish I could go back and watch that New England game live, and Super Bowl XLIV live. They are moments in time that strengthen our bonds with our teams and moments we will never forget. Enjoy the ride, this is the time you always hoped for and will always fondly remember.
In a time of legal battles, suspensions, and punishments for the Saints, I was reminded of better times thanks to the Kings Stanley Cup run of 2012. Lakertown, for a moment in time became the City of Kings. A sports town that stopped being jaded for once and embraced the underdog. When I watched the Kings, I wasn't reminded of Sean Pamphilon and Roger Goodell, I was reminded of Tracy Porter's interceptions and Baylen Brees grasping at confetti. Better times not far removed.
Thank you Kings and Kings fans. Congratulations, and don't forget about New Orleans come football season.