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Being Elite Means No Longer Being America's Sweetheart
Two years ago, Times-Picayune columnist Mark Lorando wrote a letter addressed to the rest of the NFL. The letter, published the day after the Saints won Super Bowl XLIV, was intended to tell the rest of the country that the Saints would no longer be the punch line of jokes.
To be specific he said "We know what sticklers you are for legal documentation, so please consider this our formal written notice of resignation as the unofficial whipping boys of the National Football League... We know this will take some getting used to - for you as well as for us. After all, for 43 years we have defined ourselves by the 1-15 seasons. And the Hail Mary passes. And the quarterbacks named Billy Joe. And the holes in the Superdome roof... fter 43 years of being treated as America's experts on losing, we're ready to become the new national role models for passion and perseverance."
Mr. Lorando, consider your message received.
Two years and two painful playoff losses later, the league has made it quite clear that the Saints are no longer among the hunters; we are the hunted.
The year of that Super Bowl, 2009, was my freshman year at Ohio State. That year the Saints were America's Team. All my friends in Columbus wanted the Saints to win. I remember betting my dorm mates that if Garrett Hartley made his kick in overtime that I would hug every person on the floor. One kick and approximately 60 hugs later, I was on top of the world. That didn't change two weeks later when the Saints beat the Colts in Miami. The Colts and Peyton Manning had been around for years. The Saints were the scrappy team no one believed in with the swashbuckling coach and the surgical quarterback leading the way. People like to root for the underdog and the Saints fit the role perfectly.
Flash forward two years, and I found myself sitting in a room full of people (only one of which having ever lived in San Francisco, the rest being from the Midwest) rooting for the 49ers to beat our beloved Who Dats. The Saints were now the established favorites. The sound of Who Dat was no longer the cry of the victorious underdog it was in 2009; it is the sound of one of the most successful franchises of the late 2000's.
The Saints have earned that type of notoriety. No team has had more regular season wins since 2009. We have won a Super Bowl at least ten years more recently than traditionally storied/original franchises such as Oakland, Dallas, San Francisco, Minnesota and Cleveland.
Oh those Browns. The Saints used to be their kin in the pit of mediocrity. The Browns had the Drive; the Saints had the River City Relay. The Browns had Tim Couch, the Saints had Ricky Williams. Both were mid to low level markets who had seen better days financially (especially Cleveland). Take out the weather and the tourist industry and the franchises could be mistaken for one another.
But now all my friends who are Browns fans (I still live in Ohio) look at me with disdain. When I talk about the Saints, they roll their eyes. They know I'm not a bandwagon jumper (born and raised in Slidell, I've been a Saints fan since the Jeff Blake era. My earliest Saints memory was listening on the radio to the Hakim fumble.), but they still sense that I rub the Saints' success in their faces. They were thrilled when the Browns beat the Saints last year in the Dome. They acted as if they had just defeated an unlikable team, like the Patriots or the Cowboys. It's not like anyone could resent...
It was then I realized the truth. We can't have it all: the team both can't be consistently elite and universally beloved.
We are no longer America's Sweetheart. We have graduated to become one of the elite franchises in the National Football League. I'm glad, because that's obviously where I want the team to be. But it will never be the same as that first Super Bowl, when all the newness, the underdog mentality and the support the Saints got from all over the country made that game incredibly special.
Mark Lorando probably wouldn't have it any other way.