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Rick Carroll: A march worth savoring

The walk is always longer when you’re on the losing end. And this walk out of Invesco Field seemed an eternity.

The delirium on display by the triumphant team’s fans was deafening, annoying and hauntingly familiar. Not that this road to Loserville hadn’t been staggered down before, at least not by me.

For my son, Quinton, however, it was his official entrance into a fraternity which, despite the yearly dues of futility and head-scratching, I could not quit. His beloved Reggie Bush jersey hung over his baggy britches. His head hung low as well. The boy’s spirit was broken, and no wonder. It was his first Saints game, and his team had lost in stunning fashion.

I reached deep for something fatherly to say. What I said was not-so fatherly.

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“Well, you can now say you are a real Saints fan,” I told him.

He didn’t respond, so I repeated myself.

“I heard you the first time,” he replied.

Really, what was there to talk about?

The New Orleans Saints, a team that had made losing an art form, had invented yet another way to go down, this time to the Denver Broncos, by a score of 34-32. Quinton and I had witnessed the Saints trail 21-3 at one time in the first half, and 31-19 in the second frame, only to rally back and narrow the deficit to 34-32 in the game’s waning moments.

Quarterback Drew Brees had been nothing short of spectacular, completing 39 passes for 421 yards. The field-goal kicker, Martin Gramatica, not so much, shanking three attempts, including the potential game-winner – a 51-yard try that drifted left as time expired.

Game over. Another tease. Another loss.

Time can change your perspective on things, and I now look back at the day – Sept. 21, 2008 – as the perfect initiation into the Who Dat Nation for Quinton, now 10.

He certainly hasn’t paid his dues like the legions of Saints’ blind followers – some of who’ve cried in their Dixie beers for 43 years. But he got a whiff of that same frustration many of us have choked on since we could walk.

For me, it’s been since the fifth grade, when such players as Ike Harris, Henry Childs, Archie Manning and Wes Chandler were my idols. Years later I’ve hung onto their football cards, tangible reminders of how much I revered those guys, but also how awful the Saints used to be.

There were the eras of the Dome Patrol, Bobby Hebert, Jim Mora and those god-awful bags fans put over their heads as a protest to the Saints’ putrid performances. This was, after all, a franchise that in 1979 used the 11th pick of the draft on punter Russell Erxleben. A punter!

This was the same franchise whose coach in 1999, Mike Ditka, wore dreadlocks at a press conference the day after Ricky Williams was drafted. Yep, you gotta love those Saints, the town drunks of the NFL.

And we did love them – at least at the beginning of each season. But over the course of these four-month campaigns, that love affair would devolve into disappointment, then disgust, and finally the realization, that yes, we still suck. Sure, the Saints had their moments, but they were fleeting, coming about as often as the Census Bureau visits your home.

Over the last decade, for me, at least, I was able to enjoy the rebirth of LSU Tigers football. Whenever the Tigers won Saturday, a Saints’ victory Sunday was nothing but lagniappe. And it’s been a sheer joy to watch the Dallas Cowboys limp along through the last decade.

But not this year. No, this season, we actually became fans with standards, dare I say high ones at that. We no longer find solace against pulling against the teams we hate, but rooting for the one we love.

But we also know that whatever happens this weekend, the good times must roll.

Tonight, I’ll be making jambalaya. Tomorrow, I’ll be eating it, along with gumbo and whatever other swamp food lands in my bowl.

At kickoff Sunday, I’ll remember names like Tony Galbreath and Chuck Muncie. Dalton Hilliard. George Rogers. Morten Andersen. I’ll remember those colossal fourth-quarter chokes, blow-out losses and season-long confinements in the division cellar.

I’ll also recall that day in Denver when the Saints blew yet another shot at victory. And I’ll think to myself, it was worth it all.


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