Called the Cops

I called the popo on a neighbor last night. Hated to do it, but he was apparently intoxicated, enraged, and going after his brother with a damn shovel, yelling that he intended to kill him. Three cop cars showed up. Fortunately I don’t think anyone was hurt or arrested.

There is data indicating that “violence against women spikes after the home pro football team suffers an upset.” I don’t think the Packers victory was an upset, and the target here was not a woman, but still I have to wonder whether this would have happened if the Saints had won.

Rituals & Roundtables

Over the long weekend I was privileged to observe and even participate in some bizarre graveyard rituals to ensure a victorious season for the New Orleans Saints. These were organized in large part by college professors. There were at least three profs in attendance — maybe more. With getups like these it’s hard to tell.

Graveyard Ritual

I also had the opportunity to sit in on a roundtable discussion organized by the New Orleans Lamplight Circle, a local pagan group. This is the second such discussion I’ve attended. The previous was on “Existentialism and Spirituality.” This one was a true roundtable, with participants bringing their own topics for discussion. We talked about everything from the nature of divinity to the proper texture of brownies, and all points in between.

I thought this was a funny sort of inversion, since one typically associates academics with roundtables, and magic rituals with pagans, rather than the other way round.

Not a Football Fan

A number of friends have remarked recently at how surprised they are to see me writing about sports, and about football in particular, since they remember when I didn’t know anything about the game except that the ball’s shaped funny.

It was not that long ago, really.

One thing I should perhaps clarify: I am not a football fan. I am a Saints fan. There is a difference.

I’ve already recounted how I came to appreciate the game of football in my fortieth year. If you missed this fascinating disclosure, I suggest you revisit my Confessions of a Football Skeptic. Most everything I’ve learned about the game has come from watching the Saints. I still haven’t taken much of an interest in watching other teams play.

But there’s more to it than that.

People here love the team. I remember years ago seeing a statistical proof that Saints fans were the most loyal in the nations, as a ratio of ticket sales to losses, or some such. The fans are off-the-chain crazy devoted, and that’s somewhat infectious.

But there’s more to it than that.

Dare I say it? The Saints have a cool image. They have an unusual name, an awesome logo (which goes back to the 12th century if not earlier) and classy colors. Even before I started following the game, I could be seen sporting Saints gear occasionally, just because I wanted to look cool.

B Fat Stats
Editor B in Cypress Grove Cemetery circa 2003

But, again, there’s so much more to it than that.

I could go on and on in this vein, but I’ll cut to the chase. After the floods of 2005, when everything about this city was called into question, interest in every aspect of the local culture intensified greatly, and I too was caught up in that. I decided to actually check the Saints out and try to understand what all these incredibly loyal fans were on about. It just so happened that I started paying attention as the team started to catch fire under Brees and Payton. The success of the team has been, quite simply, an inspiration to just about everyone living here. The team’s public rhetoric about rebuilding together has supported this. They are more than a metaphor. They are an example.

If they can succeed, so can we. Here’s a video clip wherein Garland Robinette says “they have awakened us to our own recovery.”

Despite many positive aspects, New Orleans had been on the decline for a good century, and thus falling from the national consciousness, when the city flooded in 2005. All of a sudden we were thrust into the spotlight, and it wasn’t pretty. Everything negative about the city, all our failings and shortcomings were on display — even as the nation was reminded of all the unique things New Orleans contributes.

So now here we are in 2010 and New Orleans is again a focus of national media attention, only this time the story is positive. More people watched this Super Bowl than any televised event in human history. As the saying goes, you can’t buy that sort of publicity. This is huge, and we need it.

But maybe even more importantly than how this makes us look to others, is how this makes us look at ourselves, like Garland said. It’s a reminder of the simple truism that if we pull together and work hard we can accomplish great things. We need that reminder.

Has there ever been a time when an NFL team has meant so much to a city, to a region, as what the Saints have meant over the past four and half years to New Orleans and the Gulf Coast? I don’t know enough about the history of the league to answer that question. But I suspect not.

The closest I can imagine is the Detroit Lions. Now that the Saints have made it all the way, the Lions are the only old team to never play in the Super Bowl. And furthermore the Detroit area has been weathering an economic storm for years that has in some ways been worse than the flooding New Orleans experienced. If the Lions were ever to mount a resurgence such as the Saints have done, it might have a similar feel to it.

Until then, I think it’s safe to say that New Orleans has a very special relationship to its team. Sure, there are plenty of football fanatics here. But I believe there are also a great number of fans, like myself, who simply would not be following any team if they lived elsewhere.

To reiterate, I am not a football fan. I’m a Saints fan. There is a difference.

Ten Things Saints Fans Should Know About Indianapolis

Ugly Building #1

Now that I’ve sobered up sufficiently, I thought I’d write about something serious for a change.

Some people suffer a persistent delusion that the Super Bowl is won by whichever team plays better on that day.

Not so. Wise folks know the big game will be won by whichever teams’ fans are rooting with the most passion. The psychic vibrations from this passionate rooting will boost one team to victory and leave the other in the throes of defeat.

It is a complicated business, to be sure. Just as important as the positive aspects of pride and enthusiasm is the dark side — a healthy disdain for the opponent, and moreover for the fans of the opposing team.

In other words, Saints fans, it’s time to get your hate on.

I realize this puts Indy at a disadvantage, because no one decent wants to hate on New Orleans, and folks in Indianapolis fancy themselves decent if nothing else. But no one said we were playing fair here. Viking fans are still whining that the Saints were “too rough” on their quarterback. Hey, life isn’t fair.

Having grown up on the south side of Indianapolis, I have the inside track on some truly embarrassing facts that every Saints fan should keep in mind as we head toward the confrontation in Miami. Of course, coming from Indianapolis I also suffer from the above mentioned illusion of decency which prevents me from actually saying anything insulting myself. Therefore I will resort to the tried and trusted technique of quoting other sources.

  1. You thought Louisiana lawmakers had cornered the market on dumb legislation? Not hardly. Republican Senator Jim Merritt of Indianapolis is hard at work on a bill to criminalize “sexting.”

    “We do not have this in the code whatsoever. Texting, sexting, is a new phenomenon, it’s a national phenomenon. What we’re trying to do is say to the child, do not sext,” Merritt said. “It would be a juvenile violation if a minor would send another minor a sext message, and if that person forwards it on, that would also be a juvenile act.”

    Do I even need to spell out how stupid this is?

    In Louisiana we prefer our idiot legislators to come from the sticks or at least suburban Jefferson Parish, but this guy represents the state capital, which is also the most populous city in the state. How can this be? How can sophisticated urbanites elect such an obvious doofus? Read on and it will all start to make perfect sense…

  2. Like all great cities, Indianapolis has been immortalized in the lyrics of popular song. One quick sample should suffice…

    Can’t go west,
    Can’t go east,
    I’m stuck in Indianapolis,
    With a fuel pump that’s deceased.

    Ten days on the road
    Now I’m four hours from my hometown
    Is this Hell or Indianapolis,
    With no way to get around.

    In case you missed the point, the Bottle Rockets are equating Indianapolis with the netherworld. The city inspires many such comparisons.

  3. Like all great cities, Indianapolis has its share of nicknames. For example, the always popular Indianoplace:

    Although it’s a comfortable, Midwest city with a steadily-growing economy, a growing population and an increase in amenities, it is perceived as being Dullsville when compared to the Coastal cities. It is easy to see why. It lies in the middle of nowhere — in the flat Corn Belt with no mountains, no rivers (navigable ones), no culture, no nightlife, no high-density development, no green space, no opportunities to get out and enjoy nature, not a huge number of suburbs, no high-tech jobs and abysmal public transportation. Rumor has it that Indy is talking of creating light-rail in the future, but don’t count on it. Too many people in the area are too antiquated and narrow-minded to accept changing anything.

    Ouch, kind of harsh. But again, these are not my words, ladies and gentlemen. I’m merely reporting what I find on authoritative sources such as the always-reliable Urban Dictionary.

    Comes from the evident lack of anything to do other than get drunk and watch sports and the appearant resistance of many of its inhabitants to allow culture, change, or diversity into the mix.

    Another popular nickname is Naptown. The term evidently derives from the notion that it’s a sleepy place with very little excitement. Another interpretation is this was a racially derogatory term promulgated by the KKK which, by the way, ruled the Hoosier state for a good long chunk of the 20th century. However, the term Naptown has now been embraced as a term of pride, or at least endearment, by the current generation of rappers, so I guess it’s come full circle.

    Other nicknames for Indianapolis include “Neon Cornfield” or “Where Fun Goes to Die.” I think you get the idea.

  4. Let’s consider the true meaning of the word Hoosier. Growing up in Indiana myself I was never aware of the insidious meaning of this term. I thought it was a value-neutral label for anyone born or bred in Indiana. Only when I grew up and struck out on my own did I discover the truth. In the rest of the country, and in St. Louis in particular, Hoosier has a very particular meaning and it’s not a compliment! This was first driven home to me when watching an old black-and-white gangster flick from the 30s. After one hood gunned down another for no good reason, his companion castigated him thusly:

    What’d you do that for? That was stupid — real Hoosier stuff!

    Let’s return to the Urban Dictionary for a more contemporary definition:

    Usually overweight, trailer-inhabiting, junk-food-eating, quasi-inbred folks whose idea of luxury is shopping at Wal-Mart and when in the mood for gourmet dining, go to Ponderosa. For the ultimate in entertainment, it’s the Jerry Springer Show or pro wrestling. Of course, NASCAR is big also. But the mecca of the true Hoosier is Six Flags Over Mid-America in Eureka, MO. A disproportionate number of Hoosiers can be found at hospitals, as both patients and visitors, a result of a lifetime of artery clogging, blood pressure raising diet and smoking cigarettes.

    I wish I could say that was hyperbole.

  5. Why is Indianapolis located where it is, anyway? It’s a historical fact:

    The city was founded on the White River under the incorrect assumption that the river would serve as a major transportation artery; however, the waterway was too sandy for trade. [Wikipedia]

    One steamer did make it to Indianapolis but it got hung up on a sand bar. Yes, indeed, the entire city is founded on the basis of a mistake, an error, a botched decision made on erroneous information — and a costly one at that.

  6. It’s sad but it’s true. Indy fans don’t have the passion New Orleans fans bring. When I mentioned the celebratory atmosphere here in the Crescent City, a friend of mine in Indy put it this way:

    Enjoy the party. In Indianapolis we don’t even celebrate until Miami. That’s how we do it.

    Sad, ain’t it? I guess that’s the danger of success. In Indy people are so used to victory they’re yawning at the prospect. Another Super Bowl? Ho hum. I guess they might start calling it Naptown again. Prediction: No matter the outcome of the game, there will be more fans welcoming the Saints back to New Orleans than welcoming the Colts back to Indy. That’s just how insane the fans are here.

  7. Just to show what an open-minded guy I am, I’ll entertain the opposing view. A Hoosier friend of mine wrote the following defense of Colts fandom, and I think he does a fine job of damning with faint praise.

    The Colts and the Super Bowl mean more to Indiana and Indianapolis than the Saints mean to New Orleans.

    Hang on.

    New Orleans has survived the greatest national tragedy since the Civil War. They have done so with the overwhelming support of the rest of the nation and perseverance and tenacity that is truly awe inspiring. There is still much work to be done, of course, and I do realize what a Super Bowl victory would mean to the city, especially given the Saints have never been this far.

    However.

    New Orleans has incredible music, art, FOOD, and history. Probably the most impressive of any city in the country. Jazz Fest. Mardi Gras. LSU football, the ocean, the Mississippi River, etc etc etc.

    Indianapolis has the Colts.
    And a decent Children’s Museum.
    Maybe the 500, but ick.

    There are many reasons for citizens of New Orleans to be proud, and besides the Colts, we here in Danielsland have next to nothing.

    Rooting for the Colts is the ethically correct thing to do on Super Bowl Sunday.

    I rest my case. Well… almost. Several points remain to be made.

  8. Since our hex on Favre seemed to work so well, we’ve been wanting to do something similar for Manning, but it’s complicated. We can’t just steal soil from his boyhood home; since the Saints come from the same turf it might have unintentional consequences.

    I think we need something more personal. I’ve asked one of my loose, free and single friends up in Indy to try for a lock of his hair. She thought she might volunteer to clean the shower room and gets some pubes. I told her she needs to lure him pack to her place with her feminine wiles, get him drunk and do a Samson-and-Delilah number on him.

    Still waiting to hear back from her.

    Which brings me to point number whatever:

    It’s practically an open secret that the Colts quarterback is a man of low moral character whose womanizing ways will soon bring disgrace on himself, his family, his team, and his adopted city. Open marriage? Yeah, right. Just wait until this blows up in his face Tiger-style and then remember you heard it from me first.

    (I could post citations because this stuff is all over the interwebs, which as we all know is an unimpeachable source, but it’s just too sleazy even for me.)

  9. Nothing symbolizes local culture quite like food. I feel bad bringing this up, I really do. It’s just such a mismatch. Because when folks in Indy really want to live it up in the kitchen, they imitate New Orleans. I’ll quote another Hoosier friend.

    I always go up to Indy for a Super Bowl party with some homies and other friends. Often it’s just for the party but sometimes we actually care about the Super Bowl. Like THIS YEAR, for example.

    One guy always makes gumbo. Last year someone added muffeleta sandwiches.

    That’s “other team” food now. What to do? We can’t celebrate their cuisine!

    Breaded tenderloin, green bean casserole? Nooooo! No Hoosier food!

    See? Even in Indiana people can’t get excited about “Hoosier food.”

    Not coincidentally, at the top of one persons’ list of best food in Indy is a place called Yats. Hmmm…. wonder what style food they serve there?

    In the spirit of full disclosure I must report I just came across an article on this subject that claims “Indianapolis holds its own thanks to a serious understanding of all things pork.” But I’m not having it.

  10. I’d be remiss if I didn’t remind everyone that Indianapolis is the city that changed the Hoosier Dome to the RCA Dome. Yes, I know, this is ancient history because the RCA Dome is no more. But it still says volumes about priorities in Indy. They’d sell their grandmother out for a quick buck. And of course it’s the subject of one of my favorite episodes in the ROX canon, namely ROX #82: The RCA State, which is must viewing before the Super Bowl. Check it out.

So there you have it. I had to stop somewhere and ten seemed like a nice round number. I didn’t even have to bring up the truly egregious events that took place in the wee hours of the morning on March 29, 1984.

Black & Gold & Blue & White Superbowl

Ekambaranathar

Yesterday everyone on campus was wearing black and gold — except for our administrative assistant. A Colts fan from way back, she was defiant in a blue and white dress which she’d been saving for the occasion. She’ll be rooting for the Colts in the Superbowl. But even she was happy the Saints will be there too.

This is the match-up I was hoping to see. Months ago when both the Colts and the Saints were racking up consecutive wins, it occurred to me that it could happen. And since I grew up in Indianapolis and still have friends and family there, I decided I really wanted it to happen, and have fervently wished for it ever since. I only wish I’d been bolder and predicted that it would happen. Then I could brag.

It should be a fun game. Think about it: the Hoosier team with the New Orleans quarterback versus the New Orleans team with the (sorta) Hoosier quarterback. I say “sorta” because Drew Brees went to Purdue, and we all know the Hoosiers are Indiana University. But I guess if we accept Boilermakers in my family I can forgive Drew too.

Diehard Saints fans are blissful at the mere prospect of seeing their team in the big game for the first time in the 43 year history of the franchise. There’s a sense of victory in the air already. No matter what happens in Miami, New Orleans still wins.

People might suspect me of having divided loyalties, but that’s not the case. Sure, I grew up in Indy, but I was never a Colts fan. I’ve only come to appreciate football (insofar as I do) recently. I haven’t followed the Saints long enough or studied the league hard enough to appreciate the Manning dynasty. Although it’s an interesting backstory, I don’t personally care about the fact that Peyton Manning is from New Orleans. I’m for the Saints all the way. They are the only team I’ve ever known.

In fact, it’s kind of amazing to me that I’m actually excited about the Superbowl this year. For most of my life this has been a “dead” day, a time when everyone in the country seems to be preoccupied with a strange event that is absolutely meaningless to me.

This one’s different.

Not Just a Game

Just when I thought the whole sequence of events couldn’t get any stranger, in the midst of unpacking I was summoned via text message to Ashley’s grave where I partook in a bizarre quasi-religious sports ritual.

H. Ashley Morris

It was funny but also deadly serious. And it struck me:

It’s not just a game.

Meanwhile, up north, Aunt Karen & Aunt Ron say they will be wearing their “Helga Viking helmets” all weekend, so “beware of the power of the old Norwegians!”

Yes, I’ve got Viking blood in my veins. Yet these Saints have turned me against the old Nordic ways.

Serious stuff. Not just a game.

Aunt Karen wants to know: “Ya’ll doing that vodoo stuff down there??”

Oh yeah, Auntie K. We doing #whodat voodoo down here.

Michael and Howie ventured to Kiln, Mississippi, yesterday. On my advice they took some soil from Brett Favre’s boyhood home, mixed it with salt and wrapped in foil. Michael will be taking this little hex package to the Dome tonight for maximum proximity.

It’s not just a game.

They say this is the biggest contest the Saints have ever played in the history of the franchise — which, coincidentally, is the same age as me.

I can find no better words for today than what Ashley wrote three years ago upon getting the biggest damn fleur de lis tattoo you’ve ever seen:

Pride in a city, pride in a team.

Where does the team end and the city begin? These days, who knows.

It’s not just a game.

Who-dat nation is everywhere, thanks to the flood.

Our “leaders” have abandoned us.

People think we’re idiots…but we fight back. Hard.

We know what’s important, and they’re trying to rip it away from us.

But nothing is more important to us than our city, and our team. We will carry it with us always.

We are New Orleans.

We are the New Orleans Saints.

Geaux Saints. Win this one for Ashley. Who dat!

Confessions of a Football Skeptic

I was born around the time of the very first Superbowl, and my parents named me after a star player on the Green Bay Packers. Yet for 40 years our nation’s most popular sport has remained a mystery to me. I never understood the game of football. I never wanted to understand it. I was never very athletic or competitive, and the whole culture of sports never appealed to me.

At family gatherings, the inevitable football game merely provided a soundtrack of unintelligible voices. I remember taking comfort in the authoritative tone with which sportscasters discussed matters I couldn’t comprehend. There’s a metaphor there — but I digress.

Growing up in Indiana, I couldn’t avoid learning to appreciate basketball, which is like a religion there. I never played it, but at least I understood it.

Football was another story. Sure, I got the basic concept, each team trying to move the ball in opposite directions. But that was about my limit. My few attempts to comprehend the game left me confused. (See ROX #82.) The rules are complicated. But then again I wasn’t really trying. I didn’t really care.

Over the years I latched on to various critiques of our sporting culture. You know the lines. It’s too macho. It’s too violent. It places too much emphasis on competition. And of course the standard line:

It occupies the populations, and it keeps them from trying to get involved with things that really matter. (Elie quotes Chomsky.)

These critiques are not without merit. But the truth is I couldn’t follow a football game anymore than I could read a book written in Chinese.

With my 40th birthday approaching and all the excitement surrounding the Saints, I decided it was time to make a real effort. I wanted to understand what so many of my fellow citizens were so crazy about. I was tired of being oblivious.

So back in October I went to see a Tulane game with DJ.

DJ Eats

It was my first time in the Superdome since I was eight years old.

At my prompting, DJ explained the concept of “downs.” I figured I would need a series of lessons to truly understand the game. But as it turned out, I didn’t. That was all I really needed to know: downs. Once I had that, everything snapped into place. Suddenly the game made sense.

I’ve been watching the Saints ever since. I was happy to discover that, yes, there are elements of the game which I find compelling. There is a certain aesthetic elegance that emergences from the play on the field.

And I sure picked a hell of a season to get into the game. I won’t go on about what this season meant to New Orleanians, or how what last night’s loss to Chicago meant, as others have done that much better than I could.

Instead, I’d like to reflect for a moment on those critiques I mentioned above. They have some merit. I certainly wish we brought the same level of analysis to serious social problems as we do to sports. Can you imagine if there was a whole section of the newspaper devoted to issues of conscience?

But when intellectuals levy criticism against the people for their devotion to a game, I feel it misses the mark.

Consider, for instance, Andre M. Perry’s article in Louisiana Weekly, which states:

Say, “Saints” three times and you forget about the rest of the world.

Saints! Saints! Saints!

Your synapses are clogged with the rue [sic] from yesterday’s gumbo.

Say “Who Dat?” three times and without realizing it you’ve just invited Allstate executives to the playoff party.

Saints mania has certainly induced an acute amnesia to the flamboyant violence of recent weeks. It’s unlikely there will be any large scale protests this weekend. If the Saints go on to Miami, the majority of the city surely won’t concern itself with the former residents of the St. Bernard Housing Development.

You don’t have to read between the lines too carefully to detect the scorn in Dr. Perry’s words. (Or perhaps I am being oversensitive.) Yet I wonder, what’s the point? Football fans are both numerous and passionate in these parts. Framing the argument this way only serves to alienate them from the cause. Rather than insult people for their excitement, wouldn’t it be better to emphasize a commonality? St. Bernard residents are Saints fans too, y’know.

Love of the Saints transcends race and class and brings New Orleanians from all walks of life together. Conversations about the team and the game take place all over town. To the extent that’s true, I think people of conscience shouldn’t reject sports culture out of hand, but embrace it. Enthusiasm for football does not preclude a social conscience. Sports fans can still get involved with “things that really matter.” Conversations about sports can lead to conversations about other things.

None of which is to suggest that I’ve become a giant fan of professional sports. I’m still skeptical. I could list a dozen well-justified reservations. But I did enjoy this season a great deal, and it’s helped me to connect a little bit with my fellow New Orleanians. For that, I am grateful.

Postscript: “The mayor sucks. The governor sucks. The legislature sucks. The president sucks. The only thing that doesn’t suck is that team. They brought hope to this city.” — lifelong fan Stan Gelpi in an ESPN story

All Saints Day

Today is the day when the Saints return to the Superdome. I think everybody who lives in New Orleans is pretty happy about that, even football-skeptical folks like myself. It’s hard not to get caught up in the excitement, since so many people seem to pin so much on this team. But even as we celebrate, we’ll keep things in perspective.

To those outside the city, even if you’re not a football fan, I recommend tuning in to Monday Night Football and checking it out. Not for the game so much as the spectacle and commentary surrounding it.

More reasons to celebrate: It’s Herb Reith’s birthday today. He and Jenny came and visited us over the weekend. They are some mellow, laidback people, character traits which I have come to appreciate more and more. Also, thirteen years ago today Xy and were manacled together in unholy matrimony.

Football in the Quad

I just saw something I’ve never seen in my seven years here at the University: students throwing a football around in the quad. It did my heart good. It almost seemed like, well, college.

Saint Bush

People in New Orleans are getting excited about Bush. No, not George W. Bush — Reggie Bush. He’s some sort of new football guy for the Saints that people are hailing as the team’s savior, even the city’s savior. It is surely the height of foolishness for me to opine on a subject of which I am so clearly ignorant (namely, sports) — but if there’s one piece of wisdom I’ve garnered over in my years here, it’s this: Never get your hopes up about the New Orleans Saints. As soon as you start thinking they can win, your hopes will be crushed.