When you grow up in Louisiana, you know that the Saints are a joke. Even in my single-mother household, where the only male was my older brother who would rather make brownies than field goals, where Nickelodeon, not organized sports, ruled afternoon television, I still knew that the New Orleans Saints stunk. Even their slogan---Who dat? Who dat? Who dat say they gonna beat dem Saints?---made me blush with shame.
If there was any reason to pay attention to the Saints it was because they represent New Orleans: one of those cities, like San Francisco or Istanbul, that is unlike any other metropolis on earth. As teenagers, my grandfather courted my grandmother in the Magazine district, with its second-storied corner stores and big front porches. There’s nothing like having beignets (French doughnuts) and coffee at the open-air Cafe du Monde, powdered sugar on your shoes and black waiters in long aprons leaned against the wall smoking cigarettes on break. Behind you the chocolate Mississippi so lazy you can't tell which way it flows.
I've always been ready to criticize football. It reminds me of dog or cock fighting, a primitive blood-sport that sanctifies aggressive competition. A modern gladiator match that degrades the human body for the pleasure and greed of the audience. Football emphasizes hyper-masculinity, a scary trend that encourages men to perpetrate violence to validate their egos. And then there's the Super Bowl---a circus that, like most of television, keeps Americans placated and inactive. I want to retch when I think about 30 seconds of commercial airspace costing more than three million dollars.
But no matter how analytical us big-brained creatures are, no matter how intellectual, still we are animals, excitable and instinctual. And what are organized sports if not microcosms of our primal behaviors? When we choose teams, we render loyalty to a tribe. When we form crowds of screaming fans, we show just how comfortable we are in a herd, everyone bleating and barking their victories and grief together.
And so, last night, despite all of my heady objections to the sport, I tuned in to the most watched program in all of American history; I yelped with glee when the Saints (my team! my home state team!) made their fourth quarter interception; I even gnawed on a couple of buffalo wings. And boy did it feel good to let my inner critter roam off the leash for awhile.