by Bert Bartlett
About a week ago, Jeff Duncan, who covers the Saints well for The Times Picayune, wrote an article about a sense of swagger emanating around the team in training camp, amidst the Appalachians up in West Virginia. The positive outlook about the team’s talented roster intimated swagger was a Super Bowl ingredient, and that the players were feeling it in the comparatively cool air. Welcome to football’s annual Rites of August, when in anticipation of an upcoming season, and all that it may have to offer, emotion gets the best of reason.
Said to be of origin in Norwegian dialect, and supposedly first uttered circa 1596, the root svagra basically meant to bend, turn, or walk away. Merriam-Webster has swagger as “conducting oneself in an arrogant or superciliously pompous manner, especially walking with an air of overbearing self-confidence”. Interestingly, it has also been used in context as if to bully.
Muhammad Ali, The Mouth That Roared, and a natural promotional genius to boot (it is under estimated how calculating and precocious he actually was about it), introduced swagger to the modern American sports kaleidoscope. In those same media burgeoning 1960’s, swagger had a memorable, unofficial and inauspicious debut in pro football, in the first Super Bowl. Kansas City Chief cornerback Fred Williamson, in an Ali emulation and an opportunity to seize the big stage, ran his mouth in advance of his team meeting the heavily favored Green Bay Packers. Williamson promoted himself as The Hammer because he boasted a mighty forearm that he said would knock out Packer receivers.
According to Dale Stram (son of the Chiefs’ late head coach Hank – after he coached the Saints, the Strams settled here in Covington, La., where Dale lives), his father was not enamored with the noise. Coach Stram customarily treated his players first class as individuals, to maximize their potential as a team. If the Chiefs were going to sneak up on a sleeping monster, why wake it in advance? Coach Stram historically didn’t mind media attention being paid to his teams, but not that variety.
The Chiefs kept the game close for a half, but by the fourth quarter the score was one sided in Green Bay’s favor. In a memorable NFL Films clip, Williamson was laid out on the field, knocked out, after being run over by Packer running back Donny Anderson. During the extended pause in play, on their sideline, the Packers sardonically murmured It’s the Hammer, they nailed the Hammer. The Hammer got it. Another closing voice: Hey, get up…
In 1969, Joe Namath, as fine a pure passer as there ever has been, remarked to a group of reporters, from a lounge chair by a hotel pool in Miami, that his Jets would beat the heavily favored Colts in that Sunday’s Super Bowl, that he “guaranteed it”. That happened, and swagger in pro football got a reprieve from Broadway Joe.
Fast forward to 2003. Here is what New England head coach Bill Belichik was quoted as saying to his defending champion Patriots when swagger was broached:
“It’s really embarrassing. It really is. It’s embarrassing. Can’t hit the snap count. Can’t line up on side. There are holding penalties in the defensive passing game every week for key conversions. There are holding penalties on offense, giving the ball away like we don’t give a nuts about it. Just turn it over to ‘em. Leave the ball lying on the field there for five seconds while they come from 30 yards away to recover it. It’s just dumb football, fellas.
I’ll tell you one other thing too, I’ve read a couple of comments. Now, I don’t spend a lot of time reading the paper. I really don’t. But I do watch a little about what we say and what we think. I’ve seen a couple comments here, some of the players talking about we need to get our ‘swagger’ back.
Our attitude back…..you know what? We didn’t have a ‘swagger’ last year. If you think about it, we didn’t have a swagger. What we had was a sense of urgency, a sense of urgency about playing well, being smart, and capitalizing on every opportunity and situation that came our way….it wasn’t about a swagger. You can take that swagger and shove it up your ***, okay?!”
As swagger has seeped its way unto Who ‘Dat Nation, we laud Coach Belichik’s stance on this position. As fans, we don’t want to be wondering where the swagger is and holding the bag if the Saints simply don’t show up ready to play on some occasions this fall. This was the case in 2013, in miserly road losses to the inferior Rams and Jets, those costing the team a division title and superior playoff seeding. Yeah, let’s punt swagger out of the Black & Gold stratosphere. Immediately.
In lieu, what about a new season motto, like Finish Strong, that accompanied the 2009 title run? We’d put in a vote for Come To Play, Every Day.
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Welcome, to what is now the sixth season of Souls Of The Saints. We hope you a tad enjoy the brand of non-jocks-and-stats feature sports writing that observes New Orleans’ pride and joy entry in the National Football League. Posts will not be about the games on a weekly basis (as they were in the “old days”) but intermittent, or basically whenever it appears something stands out. Or something like that.
Our Saints season preview, with an underlying theme, is set to be published in the upcoming issue of Inside Northside, a glossy, general interest magazine published on New Orleans’ Northshore. Will attach it next time out.