Saturday night before the wonderful ‘tit Rex Parade in the Bywater, guitarist Donald Miller said that he’d spend Super Bowl Sunday as he’d spent most Sundays this season – home, working, occasionally flipping over to see what was happening. “The three games we lost I was on tour in Europe,” he said. “If we lose, there will be a citywide inquiry to see who broke traditions.”
My lovely wife and I were in compliance. In the Kingpin – check. I in my Fujita jersey, she in her Mrs. Colston T that she wore to the first Saints game back in the dome – check. Black and gold high-tops – check, and those around us all day Sunday confirmed that they too were in or getting in compliance, down to lucky undergarments.
The superstitions and rituals spoke to something essentially New Orleans and answered a question that Jan Ramsey raised before the Cardinals game when she couldn’t understand why people were getting so worked up over a football game. We all know that sitting on the right barstool or drinking out of your lucky cup while wearing your victory cap is no substitute for a team with talent (more than anyone on ESPN or CBS gave the Saints credit for!). Those rituals were a way to join the event – to play along, which Mardi Gras taught us to do exceedingly well.
Just as everybody finds ways to make their own parties under the larger umbrella of Mardi Gras, we found ways to create little niches for ourselves as part of the Who Dat Nation. Many masked all season and became characters (see The Real Fans: Miami for a good parody of MTV’s The Real World starting Supasaint, Whistle Monsta and Optimus Prime among others), while others simply found groups that they hung with, people with whom they built communal rituals.
Collectively, the network of self-made routines, superstitions, songs, chants, videos and practices became something larger. For the first time since the first months after Katrina, the city was united with a shared sense of purpose and values. People who were here in late 2005 remember very clearly that, as difficult as it was, it was also oddly magical to know that everybody here shared a belief in New Orleans and a desire to fly the flag and keep the lights on until more could return. This season, we’ve felt that multiplied exponentially because so many more people are involved. The Saints haven’t been a city sensation; the fan base that we could see, hear and touch extended from Lake Charles to Pensacola, and I’ve heard that even the traditionally Cowboy-friendly Shreveport joined the Who Dat Nation for a season. That feeling of community is overwhelming.
It also makes me wonder if the commentators who implied that the Super Bowl win somehow ends Katrina might be on to something. Obviously, it doesn’t bring people back, house the disposessed or end Katrina-related suffering, nor did the Saints season magically make things better as the announcers seemed to imply (By the way, CBS should be ashamed of themselves, showing only the Lower Ninth Ward in its various flood-oriented packages, as if it’s the only place that flooded and Katrina was primarily a poor Black problem. There’s no excuse for continuing to tell the story wrong beyond a lack of interest in getting it right.).
But after years of feeling conspired against and having to fight for everything, often feeling isolated by our post-K challenges, we’ve had something unite us for an extended period of time and something to look forward to next year. If nothing else, there’s something symbolic in the end of a story that began September 25, 2006 when the Saints returned from their post-K exile to reopen the Katrina-damaged Superdome. That game was wrapped up in Katrina to such an extent that there’s no way to disassociate the two; yesterday, Katrina references seemed like cheap plays for emotion and irrelevant. “Katrina’s not a living thing anymore,” my wife said.
Sooner or later, I assume we’ll go back to whatever passes for normal in New Orleans and deal with the day-to-day crap that we deal with, and this feeling will fade. But, we’ll also know in a pure, physical way the feeling of community and its power and joy, and that’s something to rebuild on.