Home Teams

by Bert Bartlett

Last Saturday evening, in front of the old Ponchartrain Hotel and Bayou Bar on St. Charles Ave., near Jackson, a few Souls from another city walked by, brandishing a flag, with a black vertebrate over a red background. Fleetingly, the image somehow symbolized one of an occupation in a certain war involving the South about 150 years ago. Suddenly, it hit me; The Birds were in town.      

Lately, watching a Saints game has come to be just for kicks. And a flashback, to 2007,  when then defensive coordinator Rex Ryan of the Ravens called a split second timeout for his defense just before the snap, negating a play that could have spoiled New England’s unbeaten regular season. Sunday, Chris Reis blocked Atlanta’s field goal attempt to win the game, raised his arms and ran off in triumph, only to have to line up, not able do it again, because of an untimely “T”, hand dealt from his sideline. It’s high time these cat and mouse timeouts, in pro and college ball, be outlawed, as they really are a bane to the game. The contest becomes a reductio ad absurdem, about head games, which causes head cases, and results in plenty of headaches.  Just line up and kick the damn ball.  

Garret Hartley’s errant kick to win it on Sunday, that casted him from hero to goat in 6 days, may have been in part from him not even knowing if the play would count or not, his subconscious assuming that maybe he’d have another shot at it, anyway. Though it was far from clean, the boot looked true enough, but it hooked left at the last instant, as if somebody like Alfred Hitchcock was shooting skeet from the stands, or if an Invisible Falcon had swooped by and gotten its claws on it.

Water coolers everywhere were crowded the next day, with Monday Morning Quarterbacks itemizing the woulda’ coulda’ shoulda’ stratagems that could have resulted in the home team coming out on top, just as easily. It did seem too soon in Overtime, with first and goal at the Falcons’ 11, for the Saints to trot out their kicker, rather than rely on their own legs, to get in the end zone and put ‘dese dirty birds in the freezer. But the bottom line is, the Saints, just like everyone else, are subject to the laws of gravity. Though the team came up just shy of winning its sixth meaningful game in a row, let the record show they put themselves in position to do it, were stubborn for almost five quarters, and impressively sacked Matt Ryan on the Falcons’ first critical possession after regulation, quashing the equivalent of a server’s advantage in tennis.

Complacency is a stretch, but one does wonder, is this team having enough fun out there?  The tired argument about whether this is a business or a game (it is emphatically the former, or there would be no talk of a players strike in 2011) is a moot point. But make no mistake about it, a good time is a requiste for most standout teams, it enlisting the Three Stooges  that become most valuable to football players as a group, Mo, Men, &  Tum.  And after all, ‘dis is New Orleans.

Still, there is no new demand for faith healers in the Crescent City. In fact, it felt just right to be in the stands, when just before a few critical plays that could have sealed the home team’s fate, the crowd, impromptu, commenced an infectious voice wave of Who ‘Dat Say ‘Dey Gonna’ Beat ‘Dem Saints. It is quintessentially Orleanian, in that as darkness approaches, some festivity is called for.

In the subtle hues of light befitting a jeweler, during a Home Team book signing at Aucoin Hart on Metairie Road last Saturday afternoon, Sean Payton and his wife Beth were almost as radiant as the raffle winner, when she was announced the recipient of a  fleur de lis  chain and pendant worth five figures. Upon hearing her name, the woman did at least a double take of ‘Dat’s Me! and Are You Sure?  Unlike Hartley’s kick the next day, it was true, yet the big victor of the event was Coach’s Play It Forward Foundation.

It is unlikely the Saints will find themselves further behind in the NFC South after Carolina visits the Superdome this Sunday. The Panthers are in shambles, and may be worse than 0-3. They punted Breaux Bridge native and former Saint Jake Delhomme in the off-season, after all the interceptions became too much of a cross to bear. More importantly, they let all-world defensive end Julius Peppers go to Chicago, for a Money Never Sleeps sized contract. Peppers blocked a field goal Monday night against the Packers, so ‘dat is one less thing the home team has to worry about.

Awkwardly, I’ll be cheering against the Saints not once, but twice this week, when Country Day’s middle and upper school Cajuns host St. Martin’s. The cliché Anything’s Possible can, on occasion, apply.       

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