(Tweaked for second time Monday afternoon 5 pm)
We are about to see just how bad New Orleans parties when it really tries.
All that Mardi Gras stuff they can do with one hand. But winning the NFC conference, going to the Super Bowl, and then winning the thing–that is worth celebrating.
Being a Baptist, I’ll not be celebrating, of course. But I do plan to smile twice, one this morning and once Tuesday at the team’s parade.
I hope you know better than that. No one is enjoying this team, this victory, and this phenomenon for the city more than God’s people–all of them, across the board, of whatever church or denomination. It has brought everyone together (except for the Mannings, and I expect they will make a stab at enjoying the celebration; they’re a classy bunch.), black and white and otherwise, old and young and of indeterminate age, Christians and Jews and all them others, longtimers and newcomers and sometimers.
No one asks for your credentials. If you share our joy, you’re invited to our party.
As a rule, this blog is devoted to a lot of things, but mostly to church leadership and the work of ministry.
Therefore, my plan is to do this: write this article and then, whenever I think of more to add and lessons to make, come back to it and add to it rather than write new, additional articles. It may end up taking six months and being a mile long.
All right, here we go…
WHAT CAN I DO TO CELEBRATE?
I don’t drink and nothing much in the French Quarter interests me except the old book stores and museum. And since I’m hitting the proverbial 3-score-and-10 in some 6 weeks, nothing about getting with a huge crowd for half a day sounds the least bit interesting to me.
So, here’s what I did.
I bought three Saints t-shirts today, one for myself and one for my sons. And I joined the crowd lining Veterans Highway in Kenner to welcome the victorious Saints home from the airport. The radio said their plane was due in at 2 pm. Three hours earlier as I was driving to an appointment, cars were already lining Vets. Fans clad in black and gold waved banners and yelled at motorists; they were feeling good.
I arrived at 1:30, dressed in the black/gold Saints shirt I had bought 30 minutes earlier at Sam’s Club. Someone in the crowd said, “The plane has just landed.” They said that again at 2 pm and again at 3. People hollered at every plane that landed, wondering if it was the charter.
The fans kept coming. At one point, I estimated 10,000 people lining the two miles or so between the airport and the interstate. And still they came. Every one of them–I mean, every blessed one–was dressed in Saints regalia. I never knew there was so much variety available in fleur-de-lis clothing. There were babies in strollers, handicapped people in wheel chairs, lots of teens, and mostly young adults. They were friendly, happy, and well-behaved.
They danced and yelled ‘Who Dat’ at passing cars. And still they came.
Eventually, the radio said the crowd was at up to 30,000. Police cars would clear paths with sirens going, but as soon as they passed, the ocean of bodies closed behind them.
Someone started the wave. Now, that’s hard enough to do in a circular stadium, but think what it would be like to get a wave going down a two-mile highway. But it did. The way we knew it was still going is that a half-mile west of us, people were standing on the overpass. When they stood and waved, we knew it had reached them.
Eventually, I concluded that the size of the crowd when the team finally arrived would be determined by the people’s love for the Saints and the strength of their bladders.
After a little dancing in the streets and stopping every car to ‘force’ the drivers to yell ‘Who Dat’ before proceeding, some of the more funloving among us were told by a policeman to stop it, that the Saints were now in a motorcade trying to come this way and they were slowing it down.
It was nearly 4 pm by the time the Saints arrived in their string of vehicles, threading their way through this sea of adoring fans. The cheers were non-stop. Some of the cars’ occupants we didn’t know–maybe some motorist got caught in the traffic–and some of them didn’t roll down their windows. A few I recognized. Some wit called out, “Who dat–in dat car?” and got a laugh. We were wondering the same thing.
Coach Sean Payton is said to have held the Lombardi Trophy thru the sun roof and let fans touch it, but he didn’t do it where I was.
I left before the parade ended. My dogs were barking and I was ready to sit down.
The traffic was backed up for perhaps a mile in every direction. I took the back streets and drove home.
I’m not sure why I was out there; the Saints were certainly not aware of one more person (or any specific person). I did it for myself, I suppose, to say that I was there.
Some things you do because you just feel you have to.
WHAT DOES A TEAM HAVE TO DO TO GET SOME RESPECT?
This morning I caught the tail end of the “Mike and Mike Morning Show.” They were talking about the Super Bowl and both agreed with this statement: “No one can say ‘the Colts lost that game’ because the Saints won the game.”
No sooner had they signed off when the next sports talk show came on ESPN and sure enough, these guys said, “Oh, the Colts lost that game. They had it won, they were up 10 to zip and had Peyton Manning as their quarterback, and their guys just dropped the balls.” Et cetera, et cetera, etc.
What a crock.
When you look at the quarterback stats, Manning and Brees are very even, but among the revealing comparisons is this: Manning dominated the first quarter and Brees the other three. In fact, in the last 3 quarters, Brees complete 29 of 32 passes. That was only phenomenal.
On the local radio this afternoon, a caller asked, “Will this get us respect?” The local guy said, “It will from those who know what they’re talking about. But there are plenty of the other kind out there who will never believe the Saints are for real until they’ve dominated the NFL for several more years.”
All of which says to me that we may safely ignore what these self-appointed experts say. Clearly, they didn’t have a clue what they were doing this past week when almost all of them predicted a Colts victory, some by as much as two touchdowns.
Let’s not lose sleep over what people think of us, not as a team, nor as an individual.
WHAT DID COACH SEAN PAYTON DO?
When his assistant was named coach of the New Orleans Saints a few months after Katrina, Bill Parcells told Payton to find out why this team has never been a winner and correct it.
I’d give a week’s salary–shucks, I’m retired, I’d give a year’s salary!–to know what Payton found out. When someone writes a book on this season, and they will, never doubt that, I hope they find this out.
We know several things he did. He went through the organization and team and fired a bunch of people. Then, he brought in a new crop of players, people with winning attitudes.
Then, as he figured out what he was doing–this was his first head coaching job–he even fired some of those he had brought in. A year ago, he terminated the defensive coordinator, a longtime friend. And he brought in a proven DC in Gregg Williams.
We’re told that in order to get this veteran defensive genius, Payton gave up part of his own salary so the Saints could pay Williams a premium figure.
43 YEARS OF THE SADDEST HISTORY
We were living in this city when the city of New Orleans was awarded this franchise in 1966 and when they played their first season one year later. I was sitting by the radio in our tiny apartment in back of Paradis Baptist Church that Sunday after church when Jim Gilliam ran back the opening kickoff for a touchdown. The Saints fans went wild.
Over the years, they have had precious little to cheer about. In Sunday’s Times-Picayune, local sportwriters like Peter Finney (who is now in his 80s and still on the job) says no fan base in America has supported a team like the locals have stood by this team. Even when they were losing badly, they still had hopes and still bought out the stadiums.
I used to write articles saying this is why cities should give serious thought to acquiring a sports franchise. In doing so you hand the mood of the city to the team. If they win, everyone is elated and positive. When they lose–and brother, did ours work that into an art!–a miasma settles in on the place. It’s just not worth it, I said. But I kept hoping and kept rooting for this team.
Old habits die slowly. These days, when the Saints are ahead in the game, I keep thinking we’re about to do something stupid and hand the momentum to the opponents. We did that for two generations.
When we got a lead, we sat on it. Started playing scared, hoping we could fend off the other team.
It was like we were afraid of winning; losing was familiar territory and we were reluctant to kick the habit.
No more. Last night–I’m writing this too early the morning after the Super Bowl–someone said, “This is for all the players who’ve gone before us, who struggled through those hard, dark years. It’s for the Aints and the Saints.”
We ain’t Aints no more. Winning is so much sweeter than losing ever was!
WHAT IT MEANS TO BE ONE TEAM
We’re told that just before D-Day–that would be late May of 1944–when General Dwight Eisenhower ended the meeting with his generals and everyone was about to depart to put the plan into effect, Ike said, “Gentlemen, it’s one team or we lose.”
One team. One body.
One owner–Tom Benson–who did what good owners should always do. He brought in great people, then got out of their way and let them do their job. He did not pull a Jerry Jones (Dallas) or Al Davis (Oakland) and keep interfering with the people he put in place.
One coach–Sean Payton–who hired some key assistants and reorganized the team and made winners of them all.
One president–Mickey Loomis. We don’t hear a lot from this guy, but we’re told by people who know that he is as good as they come in overseeing the entire operation.
One quarterback–Drew Brees. To be sure, there are backup QBs, like veteran Mark Brunell–you have to have them in case something happens to Brees–but when they’re on the field, there is one field general and only one.
One team. No superstars.
I have no personal experience of this, but I’ve heard from football players that when a team has a few celebrities on the roster, it makes for bad internal relations. Jealousy, resentment, back-biting. When one player decides he ought to make 10 times what the others make in salary, he sucks all the joy out of the locker room. When one runs down the achievements of another, a cancer of bitterness takes root in the organization.
No one says and I have no way of asking, but I’d be willing to bet that if one of the players started that celeb business, he would find two things happening: the other players would gather around him and bring him back to earth, and he would suddenly find they’re not calling his number any more.
The best way to manage a headstrong millionaire football player is to keep him on the roster but not let him get any playing time. He can belly-ache all he pleases, but he can’t leave because he has a contract. And he can’t play (in order to impress the other teams with his abilities so they will hire him away) if the coach doesn’t want him to. So he sits there and draws his salary and is quickly forgotten.
It’s happened. Ask Joe Horn, who used to be a star for this team but was such a headstrong my-way-or-else player, no organization wanted him any more.
On the other hand, the Saints brought back Deuce McAlister whom they had terminated last year, for just one game, even though he couldn’t play. They did it just for the morale boost for the players and the fans.
Wouldn’t it be great to be so loved! And to be considered such an asset to a team that they want you around even when you can no longer contribute anything!
DON’T RESENT THE JOY.
There will be parties in New Orleans, but there are always post-Super-Bowl parties in the winning city. And a parade, which gets underway Tuesday (tomorrow) at 5 pm at the Super Dome and winds its way for a mile or so through the business district (avoiding the French Quarter’s tiny streets) and ending on Convention Boulevard.
Some will party excessively. But someone always does, on every occasion. Some people get drunk at Christmas parties, but that does not make Christmas wrong.
Let’s let the WhoDat Nation enjoy this without us preachers calling them down.
When a friend posted on Facebook an article from some preacher he admired on how to spiritualize the Super Bowl parties, I replied, “I know he meant well, but this is not a good idea. After all, what’s wrong with enjoying the game just for the game?”
I reminded him of a story he already knew. Once when a batter approached home plate and was making the sign of the cross across his chest, Yankee Catcher Yogi Berra said, “Hey buddy, why don’t we just let the Almighty enjoy the game?”
We don’t have to spiritualize everything.
Jesus went to a wedding in Cana of Galilee (John 2), and it was there he performed his first miracle. But try as we may, we can’t find him making all these spiritual lessons and parallels there. He just did His miracle and let it stand.
It would appear–I’m not saying it is so, only that it appears–that Heaven decided that this year would belong to this city and this team. There are too many oddities, too many close calls, lucky bounces of the ball, for this to have been otherwise.
THE JOY IS TEMPORARY AND CONSTANTLY SHRINKS.
A year from now, there will be another Super Bowl, and if history is any indication, more than likely it will be two different teams fighting. That means two different cities caught up in the hoopla. And it will mean this XLIV is history.
Oh, it will be remembered, I don’t doubt that. The special Super Bowl games always are, but not by everyone. In fact, the number of people enjoying this victory is at its peak right now. A week from now, that number will have shrunk. Five years from now, only us diehards and a few of our friends will remember that it was February 7 in the year 2010 when the Saints won their first championship.
That’s how it is with these things.
It’s what motivates losing teams to get up this morning and start planning for next year.
Already, we’ve heard from coaches and fans of the Dallas Cowboys, the Houston Texans, and a couple of other teams that they have all the makings in place for a championship season in 2010-11.
The mantra “Wait Til Next Year” is chanted by almost every team on the planet as the season winds down and they load up the equipment bags and head home.
Hope is eternal.
That’s only good. Hope is what keeps us going. The hope of advancing in our company, meeting the right person, winning the Lotto, getting our prayers answered–hope is a precious commodity. The writer of Hebrews calls hope an anchor for our souls (Heb. 6:19).
I love the tale (I’m now repeating myself…again!) which James Dobson tells of returning to his college where he was tennis champion and seeking out the trophy with his name and accomplishments. He found it all right–in the trash. It had been discarded. He picked it up and brought it to his office, to display as an eloquent reminder that “sooner or later, the world trashes all earthly awards.”
That’s why we do well to set our sights higher. Check out Hebrews 11:24-24, a reference to Moses who wanted better things from life than a big bank account and an endless parade of young maidens to massage his ego.
The bad news is this world’s joys are fleeting. The good news is so are its sufferings. Check out II Corinthians 4:17-18 for Paul’s take on this subject, written to the Lord’s people who knew far more about the second than the first.
SO MUCH STANDS OR FALLS ON LEADERSHIP.
In 1966, for whatever reasons, NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle chose Houston’s John Mecom as the owner of the Saints franchise. Mecom then turned around and gave the team to his 26-year-old son, Junior, as his very own toy.
Over the years, John Mecom, Jr., did some truly stupid things. He brought in the dregs of the industry as coaches. One of the executives chosen to run the team was a former astronaut.
Clearly, the owner did not know what he was doing. We grant that Mecom surely must have meant well, but he was lost. The team and the city paid dearly for his ignorance.
Anytime there are lessons on leadership to be learned, I think of pastors and churches. The parallels are not exact between football teams and a church or denomination for a hundred reasons. None of us owns a church, we cannot go through the membership and cull all the deadheads and complainers (although we’d like to!), and we don’t have millions of dollars to play with.
Still, each has lessons for the other.
I once told Saints Coach Jim Mora, the first of our winning leaders, that pastors could sympathize with football coaches in the way we give our best on Sunday, only to have people criticize and analyze it to death the following week. He said, “Yeah, but do they do it on television and in the newspapers?” We laughed. Good point.
Later I thought I should have said, “Yeah, but that’s why they pay you a million bucks a year, to put up with that.” But I didn’t.
THAT’S WHERE WE ARE FOR THE MOMENT. My brain is tired from too little sleep. My eyes are blurry from yesterday’s long day of ministry and driving (400 miles in the afternoon) and Super Bowl.
I’ll return to this from time to time to make corrections and additions.