Who can resist getting caught up in the dramatic story of the New Orleans Saints these days? Following forty-plus seasons of sub-mediocrity, (or as Howard Cosell once put it, "A study in foppishness") the Saints are headed to the Super Bowl. I dare say the earth is spinning wildly off its veritable axis during these gray, balmy days of January.
The organization was started back in the mid-1960’s as the result of a back-room deal between then-NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle and millionaire John Mecom Jr. The latter was a Texas oil man, young and energetic, with what appeared to be unlimited financial resources at the time. Al Hirt, the great jazz trumpeter, was a minority owner of the group Mecom put together to purchase the franchise, and since one of the most famous jazz-songs associated with New Orleans is ‘When the Saints go Marching in,’ the name Saints was invoked on the new team. In a bit of irony the deal was signed on All Saints Day back in 1966. The team colors, black and gold, represented the oil business in which Mecom had made his fortune – a natural resource commonly referred to as black gold.
Mecom used to practice with the squad and it was said to be hard to tell the difference on many occasions between the young owner and his players. Unfortunately, his zest for life did not preclude an ascendancy on the gridiron for his team, and despite early success, the club foundered. Unknown to anyone who followed the team at the time, a winning season would be twenty years away from becoming a reality.
I watched many games back in those early years as a child and later as a teenager. My grandmother was a rabid fan of anything Saintly, and to this day I can still envision her watching a game or two, loudly protesting the inevitable miscues of our lovable losers during those win-dry seasons so many years ago. Names like Archie Manning and Alvin Maxson, Chuck Muncie and Tony Galbreath, Joe Federspiel and Tommy Myers filled our Sunday afternoons with misery and woe, tempered by an occasional miraculous win produced randomly to ensure that we’d continue watching and following them. Mecom changed coaches like I change shirts, but it was all to no avail.
The crux came on a Monday night in the late 1970’s. My uncle carried my brother and I to the Saints debut on Monday Night Football in the Super Dome and a contest against the Oakland Raiders. The Saints were ahead 35-14 at halftime, and the future success of the team appeared to be a moot point as a victory would have clinched their first-ever winning season. However, during the second half the Saints regained their form, Oakland mounted an amazing comeback, and what appeared to be blue skies and a prosperous future instead became a long ride home for the three of us following yet another Saints defeat.
Slowly, the tide began turning in the late 1980’s after Mecom sold the team and new owner Tom Benson began running the club as a business instead of merely as an expensive hobby. I was in the Dome for most of the home games during the breakout year of 1987, and my wife and I, whom I was dating at the time, watched in amazement as the Saints became a real team with a legitimate shot at winning most of their contests. Success ebbed and flowed for the next twenty years until now, where we find the Saints in the position they are today – one win away from the league championship.
I can’t help but think that there is a lesson to be learned here, yet I have no clue as to what it could be this morning. What feelings do I get when I consider the Saints, what pin-pricks my heart and touches my soul? As a life-long fan of the team I have encountered many emotions over the years. I’ve looked forward to each season with hope, defended them when things did not go so well, and debated on many occasions whether it was worth my time to follow them at all. Despite a dream in this fan’s mind of a championship season, the ultimate Super Bowl prize always appeared to be something that had to ‘wait till next year’. But here is where we find the Saints at long last. Next year has arrived. Finally.
I guess it is the same way with my spiritual walk in life. Things don't always go my way and my faith is tested, or at least it appears to be. A lot of times I catch myself wondering what it's all worth, and by the way - wouldn't it be better if I gave in and simply went along with the flow? That would be a lot easier than defending my faith and the things I believe in on a basis that grows all the more frequent these days. Small things such as a daily read of the newspaper serves only to remind me that 'bad' appears to be winning, and 'good' has taken the last train to parts unknown. But I condition myself to believe that things will get better tomorrow, by next Tuesday, or maybe next year. I continue to relentlessly chase after an ever-elusive hope, certain that in the end it will all be made right in His time. In doing so, I learn to hang in there, and I develop patience. I think James would understand that attitude.
“Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.” James 1:3-4
Who dat, indeed.