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Saints Almost Half A Century, Eagles Not Nearly Enough

(Photo courtesy WWL)

I'm becoming convinced: every sports reporter ought to spend at least one game a year in the cheap seats. That was the conclusion this fan came to at the Saints/Eagles game this weekend.

***

It had been more than a decade since I had been to a pro football game in person. There was a time when I traveled hither an yon to see the Saints play, making frequent trips to the Meadowlands, New England, and even Pittsburgh to see "my" Saints play. I even traveled down to New Orleans to enjoy gumbo, po' boys, and to watch my Saints led by (ech) QB Jim "Chris" Everett to beat the Giants one year. (I think it was a few weeks after Jim Rome basically invented the link between entertainment and sports by goading Everett to deck him. Deadspin has him to thank.)

While I've never lived in New Orleans, my time overseas as a young man gave me an opportunity to latch on to a different NFL team than the team closest to the place in America that I grew up. The Saints were a perfect match: my dad is a jazz musician, food was (and still is) revered in the house I grew up in, and the Saints play perfectly to my contrarian instincts: rather than root for the Giants (a team etched with history and Super Bowl titles, and a team who won the second most important pro football game ever played) or Jets (who won the most important pro football game ever played), I would take the hapless Saints, firmly putting me in the mental pantheon somewhere between "deeply eccentric" and "bat-sh*t crazy".

In 1987, being a Red Sox fan was to constantly expect doom. Being a Red Sox fan and Saints fan in 1987 was clearly tempting the Gods. Even in their great 12-3 season in 1987, they somehow blew a home game against the Minnesota Vikings (and finishing behind the hated 49ers). In 1992, the Saints held a 13 point lead at home to DT Reggie White's Eagles - and promptly blew the game 36-20 with 26 points in the 4th quarter. By the late 1990s, Mike Ditka was busy putting a torch to the Saints' future by risking it all for RB Ricky "Because I Got..." Williams and the Red Sox signed P Jamie Moyer. It was clearly a dark time.

***

Yet somehow, the pain of the 1990s ended up worth it in the new millennium. And this weekend, in the 200 level of Lincoln Financial Field, it all came together.

When covering college football games for College Sporting News, I get a pass for the press box. Generally, it's a fun place to watch the game. You get food. You sometimes can forget what it's like to suffer with the fans that pay for their tickets. When you're a fan like that, it changes the way you look at the game in a fundamental way.

When I found my friend Eric, his brother Wayne, and the kids, it was in line to the Link. In what has to be an architectural disaster equivalent to London's "Millenium Dome", the geniuses who designed the Link created two entrances to the place - requiring us to wait 45 minutes in line to get it as each and every fan was frisked. (As awful as the Vet was, there were at least a dozen entrances to the place.)

Without priority media access to white-glove service in the Link's press box, we then trudged up to the 200 level where we promptly missed the first two touchdowns of the game: QB Drew Brees' first TD pass to the pride of Hofstra, WR Marques Colston, and QB Kevin Kolb's 71 yard bomb to WR DeSean Jackson. While I tried to keep my rooting for the Saints on the down-low, as soon as I sit down a guy who could have snapped my arms off like matchsticks gruffly asks me how I'm a Saints fan, noticing my Saints shirt. Apparently I showed the requisite
amount of fear, since I wasn't confronted again.

It was hot up there in the 200 level. The 80 degree weather, the high altitude and the constant glare of the sun gave me an industrial-strength sunburn. At halftime, with the score 20-13, I put in money to get food and drinks, but fifteen minutes later my friends came back with nothing, saying the lines were so long that it wasn't worth waiting. My lunch consisted of peanuts. Literally.

Meanwhile, at the start of the 3rd quarter a game that was very much within the Eagles' reach spiraled out of control. A forced fumble on the kickoff resulted in a Brees tochdown to FB Heath Evans. Boom, 27-13. LB Scott Shanle reads Kolb's eyes, and returns the interception deep in Eagles territory. RB Mike Bell leaps into the end zone. Boom, 34-13. With an offense like the Saints', turnovers deep in your own territory are like giving them candy. And the Saints' offense is relentless, too: head coach Sean Payton will show no mercy as he piles on the points. (I'm convinced that he drove Bill Parcells out of coaching forever in 2006 after their 42-17 humiliation of his Cowboys.)

As the Saints' rout was on, and QB Kevin Kolb's humiliation complete after DB Darren Sharper returned Kolb's third interception past his outstretched hands and a 97 yard pick six - the Eagles fans, already uneasy at the prospect of Kolb before kickoff, started to unload on their quarterback like so many unruly Jets fans on Bubby Brister so many years ago. Multiple fans started mentioning QB Jeff Garcia's name.

When there wasn't anger, there was just stunned silence. While many secretly expected Kolb to struggle or fail, they had never seen the Eagles give up 48 points anywhere - but at home, unthinkable. Strangely, despite the fact that the Saints were responsible for scoring two more touchdowns in the fourth quarter - and gave away two points as a safety rather than punt at their 1 foot line - Eagles fans didn't have any hatred towards Payton, the Saints, or their fans. They hated Kolb. They hated their own defense for giving up so many points. But to the Saints and their fans, they were just in shock.

***

It was a really good time at the Link. The seats were comfortable. Seeing my friends again and talking Saints and Eagles was a great time. The other fans are great: the waves of emotion (and swearing) pouring out of the 200 level was genuine, and the fans knew their stuff. We all cursed the beer vendors, Kevin Kolb, the long lines at concessions, Kevin Kolb, the heat, and of course Kevin Kolb. After the game for good measure, Kevin Kolb came up on conversation, as did QB Michael Vick. Would he get the start next weekend? If it were up to the 200 level, the answer would be a resounding "yes". (Though I think many would secretly prefer QB Donovan McNabb to strap it up instead.)

The NFL season is only two weekends old, but you get the feeling that this chapter isn't over. The 2-0 Saints are riding high this weekend, but you wonder if Payton's gambling style won't bite him in the cheeks one -or more - weeks during the rest of this season. The 1-1 Eagles might struggle if they had to rely on Kolb - but with McNabb and Vick not back yet, their loss feels more like an "incomplete" rather than the death knell of the season. Would it be impossible for these two teams to meet again in the postseason? Hardly - and when they do, neither will be the same teams I saw this weekend. Bank on that.

(And right on queue, RB Mike Bell apparently is out with an injured right knee, his return uncertain.)

Comments

Anonymous said…
The Giants did not win their 1st SuperBowl until 1986. In fact, they suffered through a string of awful season prior to the mid 80's.

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