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My fingers and toes are crossed for the Saints

Tony Bennett left his heart in San Francisco, but I think I left mine in New Orleans. At least that's where it will be Sunday night, when, for the first time in its history, the Big Easy's Saints will be marching into the Super Bowl in Miami.

My young family was living in Marrero, La., a suburb across the Mississippi from New Orleans, when the Saints made their debut in 1967. My son was not yet 2 years old, but we hired a sitter so my mom, dad, husband (now former) and I could be front and center in Tulane Stadium when John Gilliam took the opening kickoff of the Saints' first game and ran 94 yards for a touchdown.

Saints fans have lived on that run for 43 years.

Unlike many sports followers, Saints fans stick with the team, good or bad. Sometimes during especially bad spells, they've put paper grocery bags over their heads with holes torn out for the eyes — "We so ashamé," they'd say in that patois of Creole and Cajun.

But they were there for their Saints, paper bags and all.

Our family eventually moved to Houston and I became an Oilers fan. But if there was ever a contest between the Oilers and Saints, I quietly rooted for the Saints, as did my New Orleans born-and-bred husband.

I got to know a lot of professional football players in the 1960s, '70s and early '80s, since my husband's cousin was a pro himself, mainly as the late Jack Kemp's wide receiver for the Buffalo Bills and alongside eventual sportscaster Paul Maguire. We went to all the pre- and post-game player parties courtesy of Cousin Gene and visited back and forth from time to time.

Football was why we bought a 72-inch television projector and built a home theater addition to our house in 1978, way before HDTV or flat screens. Every weekend, our house was packed with people watching football games, and everything in the house smelled like beer and shrimp creole until Wednesday.

My husband and I parted on friendly terms in 1984, but, by then, I was pure de footballed out. I vowed I'd never watch another football game, live or broadcast, as long as I lived, and I've kept that promise.

When I go to Super Bowl parties, I hang around the chip and dip table, except for the half time show. Hey, I'm still a proud band nerd.

But I'm letting bygones be bygones, and I'll likely watch the game on Sunday, fingers crossed for the Saints.

See, the Colts might want to win, but the Saints need to win. Nobody needs to be told why.

I've been getting dispatches from old New Orleans pals for the past week.

My favorite is a column by Times-Picayune features writer Mark Lorando, Get ready for the Who Dat Nation coming for the Super Bowl. You can find it at connect.nola.com/user/ mlorando/index.html.

I challenge anyone who has ever even passed through New Orleans to read that column without getting all teary-eyed.

By the way, when Lorando talks about "a big Cajun guy who looks exactly like an old Saints quarterback walking around town in a dress," he's talking about former Saints QB Bobby Hebert, who was born in Cut Off, La., not far from where my own baby boy was born in Houma. (In Cajun country, that tenuous connection almost makes you kinfolk.)

Hebert was wearing the dress in honor of the late sportscaster Buddy Diliberto, who said he'd wear a dress through the streets of New Orleans if the Saints ever made the Super Bowl. Bobby did it in his absence.

Hebert is credited with founding the Who Dat Nation made up of Saints fans anywhere, after the Saints blew away the Dallas Cowboys in December 2006, which, of course, warmed the hearts of any Oilers or Saints fan.

A lot of Saints fans are trekking to Miami without a ticket to the game. They'll be in parking lots somewhere near the stadium, drinking beer and eating boiled crawfish they've hauled down there, hollering louder and longer than you think humanly possible for their Saints.

Others say that the real Saints party is back in New Orleans, from Bourbon Street to the outer reaches of Slidell, Kenner, Westwego, Gretna and Marrero. Every little kid in town is wearing a black and gold shirt. Every neighborhood has trucks decorated in black and gold parading up and down the streets, day and night.

Sorry, Mardi Gras; you've been put on hold until after Super Bowl.

Of course, we all want a Saints win Sunday, but the scoreboard is just numbers.

To New Orleanians, the Saints have always been winners.

My fingers and toes are crossed for the Saints 02/05/10 [Last modified: Friday, February 5, 2010 8:37pm]

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