You should love the Saints, but hate the NFL
It’s finally come to this, the thing I have feared and resisted throughout my Saints fandom. I am now a grumpy old Saints fan – skeptical, glass half-empty, hurt.
What went wrong? Saints-related pessimism was once something I couldn’t stand. For years, in my childlike innocence I believed the Saints had a chance to win every game, and that even in the Jim Haslett era, a Super Bowl berth was possible.
I used to inject football highlights into my veins – not just Saints highlights, but football in general. I could watch NFL Network all day long. I played the Madden NFL games obsessively, beginning with Madden 2001 on the Nintendo GameCube and ending with Madden 17 on the PS4. I consumed any and all football news, spending far too much time scouring the SaintsReport forum for free agent rumors or reading every blurb on ProFootball Talk in its entirety.
Once upon a time, I even helped cover the Saints professionally.
But in recent years, most of that stopped. What happened to me?
Oh, I know what happened! The NOLA No-Call happened. The league didn’t do anything to rectify what is unarguably the most egregious officiating gaffe in the history of the sport and as a result, reality itself was shattered. I, and I suspect many of the people reading this, have never been the same.
Even now, three years later, I struggle to adequately describe how immeasurably catastrophic that incident was. Now, it’s on my mind as we are forced to sit in the acrid stench of Super Bowl LVI, a game in which the officials barely called any penalties until late in the fourth quarter, when a highly questionable defensive holding gave the despised L.A. Rams a fresh set of downs in the red zone.
They would eventually score the game-winning touchdown on that drive. The entire 2021 NFL season was effectively decided by one official, likely a 50-something-year-old man with rancid coffee breath, failing senses and flesh decaying on his very bones as his heart still beats.
The city of Los Angeles, by the way, couldn’t care less about the Rams winning the Super Bowl. I personally witnessed a bar crowded with Rams “fans” empty out within minutes of the game ending. That would never happen in New Orleans – and in fact, it didn’t happen on that fateful night in February 2010 when the Saints won it all and the Who Dat Nation abandoned their cars in the streets to party on Bourbon like some happy version of a disaster movie.
To make matters worse, the NFL doesn’t care that Los Angeles doesn’t care. They just want to prop up the image of Hollywood glitz and glamor to sell advertising.
Don’t get me wrong, Los Angeles is a fun city and I enjoy living there. But one thing its millions of transplants don’t give a single fuck about are the Rams. Seeing the indifference, which was even mocked by comedian Conan O’Brien on his Super Bowl podcast last week, is heartbreaking for someone who exists on the opposite end of the spectrum.
The game (and I mean the entire game; the league itself) has become unwatchable. Bad calls aren’t the only thing rotten in Denmark – there’s inconsistent COVID-19 policies that led to sham games like Saints-Broncos in 2020 and Saints-Dolphins in 2021. It seems like the Bountygate witch hunt happened in another lifetime, but it was baseless, sloppy and franchise-altering nonetheless.
These are just the things that have happened to the Saints.
NFL football just isn’t what it used to be, especially for Saints fans. The league went from having Paul Tagliabue as commissioner, a man who seemed to have a soul and who was committed to keeping the Saints in New Orleans in aftermath of Katrina, to suffering through the reign of Roger Goodell, a doughy errand boy with zero accountability who has seen the pro game devolve into a chaotic mess. New Orleans is still waiting for an apology for his complete abdication of responsibility that fateful night in January 2019.
I love the Saints. They are an inextricable part of my identity and of the culture that makes New Orleans such a special place. But I hate what the NFL has become, and it’s beginning to affect the way I consume the product.
I am tired.
I am tired of the bad calls. I am tired of the bad breaks. I am tired of the silence from the league office on issues that affect the integrity of the game. Even Sean Payton was tired of it, and now he’s gone. That might be the saddest part of Payton’s surprise exit – Goodell outlasted him.
Can you blame anyone for not being super excited about the Dennis Allen hire? If Sean Payton couldn’t wade through the mess, will Allen be able to?
Allen as head coach and Pete Carmichael Jr. as offensive coordinator are the safe choices and honestly, the team will probably be more competitive than the national media will give them credit for. But the Saints brain trust is trying to carry on Payton’s vision without the visionary himself – potentially a fool’s errand. Hopefully Allen will bring enough of his own special sauce to keep the train rolling.
There is one part of Payton’s legacy that I hope lives on, not only under Allen, but as long as the NFL is on this Earth. Because of the things this franchise and its fans have had to endure, the Saints stand apart from the rest of the league; they are rebels, pests on the field and a petty mob off it. Just ask our many victims – Tom Brady and Eli Apple among them.
Whatever form this next era of Saints football takes, I hope it will continue to be something different than the rest of the drivel the other 31 NFL fan bases must suffer through. That alone would be enough to make me proud.
My once-eternal Saints optimism may have dimmed, but in its place something else has grown: a chip on my shoulder, an us-against-the-world mentality. And what could be more unifying than that?