Few professional sports organizations are more strongly identified with their fans than the NFL's New Orleans Saints. By now the relationship between the team and its rabid fanbase is a legendary and well-documented one. After the Gulf Coast was decimated by Hurricane Katrina, Saints football was a welcome distraction for the storm's survivors. And winning the Super Bowl in February seemed to put an exclamation point on the area's resurgence. The good times were rolling again in South Louisiana.
And then, barely two months later, came the dreadful BP oil disaster.
Now the badly battered Gulf region is again dealing with an almost unfathomable crisis—and once again Saints football is helping to ease the pain. At The Den Lounge in Venice, Louisiana—a dark, smoky watering hole for area fishermen since the 1950s—patrons who'd otherwise be dragging their nets out in the Gulf are lamenting the devastation of the spill. But as wrathful as they are at BP executives, they're just as passionately admiring of the Saints. Virtually every free bit of wall space in the bar is filled with Saints paraphernalia.
The Den regulars will happily regale any visitor with stories about the epic Super Bowl party they threw at the bar back in February. They'll tell you how the place was packed wall-to-wall with just about everyone from the area, and how all in attendance brought a dish and how they placed plywood over the bar's pool tables to create a makeshift buffet. Oh, and then there are the two whole pigs that Deb Popich, the bar's owner, roasted out back before the game.
They're just as keen to look ahead to the 2010 Saints season. The Saints held a mini-camp this weekend, which has the bar buzzing with news of which recent rookie draft pick shined the most in practice—and who's likely to have the greatest impact on the team. They'll tell you which opponents they're most looking forward to the team playing in a season that's still months away from kicking off. And their eyes will light up when they tell you about why they think the team has a good chance to repeat as champions.
And tomorrow, the Saints plan to come down to Plaquemines parish to reciprocate the ardor of their fan base here. The team will also bring another reminder of its recent glory: the Vince Lombardi Trophy that commemorates its Super Bowl XLIV victory.
Oh, they'll also be bringing the governor: The team was originally scheduled to have a congratulatory lunch with GOP Gov. Bobby Jindal in Baton Rouge, but all the parties involved decided it would be far better to take the show on the road.
"I know the players - all of us—are looking forward to being down there and spending some time with those people that are going through so much," Saints Coach Sean Payton told the Times Picayune. "This is a way for us to support a region and fan base that's been very supportive of us."
Saints quarterback and Super Bowl MVP Drew Brees has echoed the same eagerness to help in any way possible—including throwing himself into the fray physically.
"We are doing and will do everything we can to help," he said. "But I think more so than anything, it's just like Katrina—we will absolutely take on whatever responsibility we can, or we are required to, in order to help people and help New Orleans recover and help the Gulf Coast recover. . . . If I could swim down there and stick my fist in that hole and stop the oil, I would. We're there to help however we can."
For now, the visit itself seems like it'll tithe the patrons of the Den over. "Aw man, that's awesome," Popich told Yahoo! News when she learned of the Saints' tour through the Parish. "That is just so awesome."