2005-09-23 / Sports

New Orleans Ain’t The ‘Aints’ No More

By John Buro


Saints head coach Jim Haslett, center, bows his head as he stands with players Dwight Smith (24) and Joe Horn (87) during the national anthem before their game against the Carolina Panthers. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)Saints head coach Jim Haslett, center, bows his head as he stands with players Dwight Smith (24) and Joe Horn (87) during the national anthem before their game against the Carolina Panthers. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton) This is a tale of two teams who played a football game at the same venue. One end zone was defended by the New York Giants -co-tenants of the East Rutherford, NJ complex; the other was claimed by the displaced New Orleans Saints, who have now become the sentimental favorite of the National Football League. For sixteen weeks of the 2005-06 regular season, Giants Stadium is the home turf for both Big Blue and their AFC counterpart, the New York Jets. But, because of a league edict that went into effect on September 5, the Giants’ Week 2 match-up was deemed a road contest.

“I was looking forward to playing in the Superdome,” said Eli Manning, the Giants’ highly-touted quarterback, who was raised in New Orleans. “Hopefully I will be able to play there in the future. So, we’ll have to see about that. But, this week we’re playing at home, and I still have to play well.”

The game, which was won by the Giants, 27-10, was part of an unprecedented Monday Night Football doubleheader. The Hurricane Katrina relief effort was in full force [www.BushClintonKatrina Fund.org], with an elite array of active and retired NFL stars manning the telephone lines inside Times Square’s ESPNZone.

When the league schedule was first announced, the Giants were to visit the New Orleans’ Superdome on September 18. But, the devastation created in the Gulf Coast forced the NFL to reroute the game to New Jersey. By default, the Saints have become America’s Team, which is insanely ironic because there was a time, a quarter-century ago, when the team was known as the ‘Aints.’ In 1980, New Orleans lost their first 14 games, which prompted whatever fans remained to wear paper bags over their heads during home games.

Such sarcasm became vogue, as fans of other underachieving teams –first within the NFL, then other American team sports- established a tradition throughout the United States.

The country has rallied to lend aid, even after eyebrows were raised as a result of the immediate inactions of our government and FEMA, and the New Orleans Saints -along with other college and professional teams- have begun to rise above.

Just four years ago, after the gutless 9/11 attacks, Major League Baseball faced a similar dilemma. To play or not to play. To cancel or to reschedule. When words of love for both New York and its Yankees were evoked in Boston, of all places, it was truly a sign o’ the times. For the first time in quite a while, the Saints are relevant. Certainly, the tragic circumstances have much to do with that assessment. And, possibly, even more than that. “These guys have got a spirit about them that I hope will continue for the rest of the season,’’ marveled New Orleans’ Head Coach Jim Haslett.

Paper bags will not be worn to any Saints’ games this season, largely because they ain’t the ‘Aints’ no more. Today, every football fan is proud to support them.

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