December 18, 2009 12:05:00 PM
Bert Montgomery -
The New Orleans Saints have a perfect record and are serious contenders for the Super Bowl.
That used to be the punchline of countless jokes; it was guaranteed to get a laugh every single time.
In high school, we''d laugh as we''d chant "Who dat?! Who dat say dey gonna beat dem Saints? Who dat?!" Because, of course, just about everybody would beat the Saints.
But the joke is no more. The New Orleans Saints have a perfect record so far this season - with three games left to go - and they are indeed serious contenders for the Super Bowl.
Only one other team in the NFL remains undefeated . . . the Indianapolis Colts, led by the son of everybody''s favorite Saint: Archie Manning.
A Manning versus the Saints in the Super Bowl.
It is . . . very . . . possible.
And it couldn''t have come at a better time. Just over four years since Hurricane Katrina, the Gulf Coast region is still rebuilding, still healing. But now there''s quite an expectant fervor in the air.
As a former resident (I was born in the Big Easy), I wept and mourned during Katrina and in the months that followed. Raised in St. Charles Parish (I''m an ''86 graduate of Destrehan High School - Go Cats!), I was filled with righteous indignation every time some ignorant preacher pronounced Katrina to be God''s judgment upon New Orleans (it was out of ignorance, by the way; seeing as how churches, families and even a Baptist seminary were hurt far, far, worse than anything on Bourbon Street).
But today, rather than mourning, I am celebrating. Up here in Starkville, Mississippi, I''m dancing the Second Line. Up here at Mississippi State University, there is a bunch of us doing the Benson Boogie.
Standing in the check-out line recently at the local grocery store, I spotted some black and gold items amidst all the maroon and white T-shirts, mugs, and license plates. Forget the swine flu, it''s the Saints'' fever that has become an epidemic.
Naturally, I couldn''t be more excited for all my friends down in Louisiana. Heck, all hurricanes aside, Saints fans have suffered for over 40 years.
Some of the first words I learned to speak after "Momma" and "Daddy" were "poor Archie; poor, poor Archie."
It was the Saints who gave the lowly Tampa Bay Buccaneers their first ever franchise win, after 26 straight losses - prompting a radio parody of Randy Newman''s 1977 hit "Short People," targeting Saints Head Coach Hank Stram ("Short Coaches ... they can''t even beat Tampa Bay!").
And then came 1980.
Instead of counting 4 and 0!, 9 and 0!, and 13 and 0! like this year, fans wore bags over their heads and kept a different count: 0 and 4!, 0 and 9!, 0 and 13!
I was there when we dropped the "S" and became the "Aints." I remember people singing "Send in the Clowns" instead of "When the Saints Go Marching In."
At least one church tried to turn the "Aints" into an opportunity for evangelism - the sign at a prominent suburban Baptist congregation once boasted that "Saints win HERE every Sunday!"
Now, though, I''m getting the sense from my friends in Louisiana that Mardi Gras has come several months early.
"The atmosphere here is great!" writes a friend. "It has definitely lifted the spirits of everyone. After Katrina, the Saints were the only thing people looked forward to; it lifted the spirits to see that there was some sort of normalcy back in New Orleans. By the way, check out my Christmas Tree this year - Black & Gold, Baby!"
Geesh, another close friend, reports, "I see Saints fans expressing themselves everywhere. There are signs all over the place; ... jerseys and t-shirts on anything with a pulse. There is a feeling that this is another in a long list of pretty positive things that shows that we are coming back from the storm."
Though she is not a big football fan, even Doonbie (my former high school band drum major) is excited about this great season: "I personally love it because when the Saints play, Walmart is empty and that is when I get my grocery shopping done in peace and solitude."
Four years ago a few preachers were "celebrating" God''s "judgment" on New Orleans. I wouldn''t be surprised if some preacher today, though, has found a way to connect the Book of Revelation to the New Orleans Saints as proof that the end is near.
All I know is that even though I''ve been away from the Crescent City for over 20 years, the depths of my despair resulting from Katrina have finally been matched by the heights of my pride in the New Orleans Saints.
And all I know is that, as of this writing, the NFL-team-formerly-known-as-the-Aints are a perfect 13 wins, and 0 losses. And in Louisiana, that is spelled "thirteen and eaux."
Who dat, indeed!
We''re all smiling, but ain''t nobody laughing anymore . . .
Bert Montgomery is an author, MSU religion/sociology instructor, and pastor and lives in Starkville. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.