I became a Saints fan when I was 6. My uncle got us tickets. We got to skip church, which only added to the excitement.
We lived in small towns, and this was my first time in a city. I was shocked to see old brick buildings with fire escapes, something I had only seen in movies. We parked under an over pass by some dingy buildings and made our way to the stadium.
I remember walking up to the Super Dome and getting the program as we gave them our tickets. I scanned every bit of it before the game. There was an ad that said “no guts no glory.” I thought that was bad-ass. I had no idea what was going on, but I screamed my head off, including the line from the ad, which embarrassed my big brother.
I was hooked.
This was during the Jim Mora era. It was a good time to become a Saints fan, as most of their history was abject failure. This happened to be the year of their first playoff appearance.
I only went to a handful of games after that, mostly preseason. One time we chatted with a security guy before the game as he bragged that our starters could beat Dallas’s backups, and how Vaughn Dunbar was about to break out.
That sounds like the saddest brag ever, but it excited me. There was something about being a Saints fan that had you going back and forth between despair and unwarranted optimism.
This isn’t unique to Saints fans, but in a place that takes any opportunity to celebrate, it’s more exaggerated.
I retained that optimism for almost the entirety of my fanhood, until now.
I’m not being dramatic. It’s not simply because we just ended the season with our third straight 7-9 finish. It’s more than that. It’s been a progression.
I think the first step in the decline was the divisional loss in San Francisco. Being a fan my entire life I’ve experienced some painful losses, but nothing hurt like that one. None before and nothing since.
In the past we were excited just to get into the playoffs, and even though we lost every game but one, there was always this sense that we over achieved, and that we could use the momentum to progress into the next season.
2011 was different. We had already won a NFL title, and that team was arguably better than the 2009 team. Getting to the playoffs is hard enough. To get to the Super Bowl you need to be really good and have some luck. It really pissed me off to see the Giants, a team we had waffled stomped earlier that year, cash in on our blunder. To me, that was our last chance at another title.
Of course there was rampant hype surrounding the 2014 team. We had returned to the playoffs the year before in large part because of the performance of the defense, which finished in the top 5. Adding Jauris Byrd seemed like the missing piece to a defense who, although stingy, couldn’t create turnovers.
As I watched the team squander an early lead against the Falcons, and fumble away the game in overtime, the scales fell from my eyes so to speak.
This was no longer team who found ways to win. Quite the opposite. We were in the early stages of a team that would find new and interesting ways to lose.
The following two seasons there have been some type of major shakeups, surprise trades, coaching changes, long time players cut etc. Payton has been searching for a way to get back on course, perhaps trying to correct previous over corrections.
Firing Vitt, Johnson and McMahon is quite possibly the biggest changes to date, even bigger than trading away Graham, Sproles and Stills in one offseason. It should have been done a while ago. I’m glad it was done, but I find it hard to get excited about it.
While recognizing your mistakes is necessary, it doesn’t mean that you know the solution. There are a multitude of mistakes and solutions. There really is no addition by subtraction, only savvy decisions made with a vision of how to progress forward.
And this is where the sticking point is at with me: I’m not confident that they have a real vision that’ll correct the defensive side of the ball or special teams.
That may seem unfair and I might be completely wrong. We did see real progress with the defense this year despite the glut of injuries. and managed turned Will Lutz into nearly automatic inside the 40. We had interior pressure for the first time in forever. Our rookie class was the best one we’ve had in a long time. I should be gushing with excitement for this coming season, but I can’t help but temper my limited excitement.
I’m tired I guess. Being optimistic, being hopeful takes a lot out of you. I’ve never had a year where I’ve watch games with almost complete indifference as to the outcome. I no longer have the energy of my youth that will allow me to care like I did before. Losing use to sting all the way to Wednesday or Thursday, while today I accept defeat before the game is even over, regardless of if we have the lead or not.
It doesn’t mean I won’t watch the games, or follow free agency, the draft, mini-camp and any and every bit of Saints news. I will, but instead of screaming my head off like my six year old self, I’ll more or less be golf clapping and waiting for something bad to happen.
As a friend on Twitter says, “you can’t hurt me today Saints.”