(From Rick Cleveland: My ol’ pal Joe Rogers, formerly columnist for The Clarion-Ledger and now an editor at the New York TImes, recently challenged me to duel of words about the New Orleans Saints for the column he writes for the Ledger’s website. Naturally, I took him up on it. What follows is Joe’s column.)
In today’s column I argue why the New Orleans Saints are undeserving of fan loyalty or affection. Rick Cleveland, sports columnist and executive director of the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame & Museum, appears in opposition.
So yes, I’d better be wearing my big boy pants.
Me: Hello, Rick. Good to talk to you again. Congratulations on the museum gig; they couldn’t have picked a better successor to Rube. Now, to start things off with a softball (and so mix the sports metaphor), I’ll note that the Saints used to wear all-black uniforms. Unforgivable.
Rick: Hey, ol’ pal, I guess you don’t get to see the Saints that often in Yankeeland. The Saints do wear white jerseys as well. In fact, when John Gilliam (No. 42 on his jersey, No. 1 in our hearts) returned that first kickoff 46 years ago against the loathsome LA Rams, he was wearing white. When Saint Drew led New Orleans to the Promised Land in Super Bowl XLIV, the Saints were wearing white. Was that not showing in New York? Not that there’s anything wrong with black, my friend.
Me: Ah, the glorious, though woeful, early days. I, too, remember that first kickoff returned for a touchdown. As well as my first — and to date only — professional football game attended. The Saints actually beat the 49ers in Tulane Stadium on their way to a 5-9 record.
Of course, that was before the Saints became evil. By the time that Super Bowl you mention rolled around, I was pulling for the Colts. Or, more particularly, for a certain quarterback they had at the time.
Rick: Joe, I pull for Peyton Manning 99 times out of 100, as well. I was pulling for both quarterbacks that night in South Florida. But, Joe, I have to ask: What is this reference to evil? The Saints? Evil?
Joe: No reference to your quarterback, Rick, a heckuva player and a fine fellow, from all accounts I’ve read. And I confess, I took a certain joy back when Deuce McAllister was piling up yards for the Saints. Hotty toddy, and all that.
But for the evil claim, I offer Exhibit 1: Back when New Orleans, one of the great cities of the world, was reeling from Katrina, the Saints owner was apparently entertaining the notion of packing up and moving on to greener pastures. Not exactly what I’d call sporting.
Rick: Exhibit 1B: The Saints remained in New Orleans, which we agree is one of the greatest cities in the world. In fact, the Saints have been the chief rallying point of the New Orleans recovery since Katrina. When the Superdome reopened and the Saints bludgeoned the Dirty Birds, it was as if the city was reborn.
Do this: Take a trip to New Orleans, walk into Harry’s or Molly’s or The Chart Room or any other watering hole and try to convince a local that the Saints are evil. You might want to wear a football helmet when you do.
(Joe, this isn’t going well for you.)
Joe: I’m opinionated, Rick, but I’m not suicidal. And I wouldn’t think of trying to make this argument in New Orleans, though I suspect the fans there weren’t and aren’t too happy with the owner, either. The fact that he was strong-armed into staying doesn’t make him a good person.
So on to Exhibit 2: The NFL says the team operated a bounty system for several years encouraging what might most charitably be called extracurricular activities on the field. Fines, suspensions, etc. followed. Sounds dirty to me.
Rick: Boys will be boys. Most ex-NFL players I know laughed at Bountygate, said that’s been going on for years with virtually every team. And I would remind you that Paul Tagliabue vacated all players’ suspensions and fines.
Joe: He didn’t vacate the coaches’ suspensions, though.
But that’s neither here nor there. We both know where I’m going with this, which is Exhibit 3, the real reason I don’t like the Saints: They took one of the best athletes and nicest guys who ever came out of Mississippi, Archie, and threw him to the wolves year after year. Sabotaged what should have been a stellar, hall-of-fame professional career, and then, to add insult to injury, shipped him off to the Houston Oilers.
Doesn’t matter if Archie doesn’t hold a grudge. I do.
Rick: I still remember Orley’s lede that day: “Bum, you stinking bum.” Bum Phillips traded Archie. Bum Phillips got fired. He’s dead now, though I held a grudge to his grave. Yeah, the Saints were bad when Arch was there. But that’s the thing about the Saints and Saints fans. We loved them when they were bad. They were lovable losers, which makes them so much more enjoyable as winners.
As I type this, I read where Archie will be one of the first three Saints to go into the Ring of Honor. I’m guessing Deuce will soon follow. Eventually, Saint Drew as well. What was your original terminology? Undeserving of fan loyalty and affection?
Just the opposite.
Who, unfortunately, seem to be having one of those lovable Saints seasons of their own right now.