After Hurricane Katrina in August of 2005, hundreds of thousands of residents of Southeast Louisiana were dispersed around the nation (and even the world). Even before Katrina, a struggling economy led many to leave for jobs in other states, away from their true home.
I am part of that diaspora - as are many of my friends and family. Which brings me to the point of this post: The Saints symbolize the colorful New Orleans community and the people who still call New Orleans their home, no matter where they may live. And when the Saints play, we are united with each other – as well as those loved ones that remain in the Big Easy – through the common bond of watching our team give it their all against the odds.
It's this unity that led former Saints quarterback and sports commentator Bobby "Cajun Cannon" Hebert to dub us members of the Who Dat Nation - a scattered legion of die-hard devotees to a team of lovable underdogs.
The Saints' journey to the Super Bowl has been more than just a dark horse victory; their unlikely triumph has been a symbol of survival - a testament to the spirit and determination of the beleaguered yet buoyant citizens of New Orleans. When the Saints played the reopened Superdome for the first time since Katrina in Sept 2006, the game represented a giant step toward normalcy. And when the Saints began to actually do well in ensuing seasons, each win represented the collective triumph of New Orleanians over adversity, creating waves of celebratory healing and hope.
Of course I am rooting for the Saints this weekend…the symbol of my heart's home. And it doesn't even really matter if they win or lose, because just making it this far is a miracle and proof that God loves New Orleans (did you see how many freakish turnovers it took to make the Saints' victory over the Vikings possible?).
To honor Super Bowl Sunday this weekend, I wanted to tell a true story of zany enthusiasm, devotion and community – N'awlins Saint-style. A story that came to me through the networks of the Who Dat Nation, of which I am a proud citizen.
Bernard "Buddy D" Diliberto was a sportscaster in New Orleans for 50 years. Disheartened by the Saints' abysmal seasons of continual losses, he coined the term "The Aints." After years of frustrated devotion, Buddy D made an infamous promise that if the Saints ever made it to the Super Bowl, he'd parade down Bourbon Street in a dress.
Well, as fate would have it, Buddy D passed away in January 2005 - perhaps mercifully before Katrina devastated the city – and never lived to see his team reach this unlikely height. But in the spirit of fraternal allegiance, the promise would be fulfilled by proxy. This past weekend, Bobby Hebert led a second line of thousands of men in dresses down Bourbon Street to pay tribute to the Saints' victory and the memory of Buddy D.
Now I know what you're thinking: Men in drag in New Orleans? That's unusual? Good point. But I swear this was different! I am willing to bet this is the first time - and probably the last - you will see these particular guys in women's clothing! This New Orleans-style celebration embodied the commitment of fans who would do just about anything to prove their devotion to their team and their community.
The truth is, under most circumstances I could care less about sports. Sure, I love to go see the Tigers play a game of baseball at Comerica Park on a sunny afternoon with my friends - but it's more for something fun to do downtown that a real passion. But the New Orleans Saints are more than a sports team to me…they are the glue that holds the Who Dat Nation together. And I could not be more excited to see a team run out on the field on Super Bowl Day.