I believe in the Falcons. Okay, sure, I must admit that I’m among the fans labeled “fair-weather,” but I don’t go around looking for a winning team’s bandwagon to jump on just to be among winners. For every Atlanta Falcons game I watch, no matter how flawed the substitute quarterback, no matter how injured and unavailable a running back or right guard, no matter how inexperienced the defense, I’m rooting for my dirty birds.
Except Sunday’s game against the New Orleans Saints came as an exception. I have to confess that a certain percentage of my couch-side cheerleading was reserved for the gold and black and the fleur-de-lis logo. Traitorous, yes, but this game and the Saint’s 2009 season record is bigger than football; it’s symbolic of the spirit of a city that’s struggled over the past four years to find its footing and regain not only its infrastructure, but its pride, its dignity, and its acclaim.
In Atlanta, the Saints are referred to, quite unaffectionately, as the Ain’ts, and no Falcons fan should be caught compromising his loyalty to an arch rival such as this. But how does a spectator stop herself from thinking back to August 2005 when the weather in New Orleans was not so fair? From remembering the 26,000 evacuees housed in the Superdome, sleeping on cots and hungry for food? From recalling the images of washed-out homes and washed-up graves? Katrina was the defeat of New Orleans, and an undefeated football season, while hardly a panacea for that disaster, surely comforts the sufferer in some way.
It’s pretty difficult to root for two competing teams. The conscious and subconscious engage in a stormy tug-of-war that’s hard to manage. Do you dance or bite your nails? The late-game tie at 23-26, with almost five minutes left on the clock, had me thinking that the Falcons would pull this one off, avenge themselves of that overtime upset against the Saints on the second of November, and be the first team this year to add an L to the Saint’s record. But then, that fourth-quarter interception by Saint Vilma had me yelling, thirteen and O! No, I certainly didn’t get a rise out of watching Chris Redman et al. falter and fumble, but then it didn’t hurt either. I was okay with the Falcons losing this game. (I’m convinced that the referees were secretly pulling for the Saints as well, considering a couple of questionable calls against the Falcons.)
The human spirit is competitive, but it’s also compassionate. Here in Atlanta, we took in hundreds of refugees from New Orleans, we raised money for them, gave them temporary housing, fed them, clothed them, crowded our own schools to make room for their children. And so, they are — I’ll say it — like family! Surely, I’m not alone in feeling like this. We should all want to see the city of New Orleans rise like a phoenix. To see them go all the way. To see a city that has been so defeated go undefeated, go from underdog to top dog. What greater declaration of perseverance is there?
For the last three games on the Falcon’s schedule — New York Jets, Buffalo, and Tampa — I’m 100% for the Falcons. Yes, I’m aware that their chances at the playoffs are about the same as that of a hurricane hitting Atlanta. But it ain’t over ‘til it’s over, and I’ll shake my red-and-black pom-poms until the end. But then, I’m also hoping that Dallas, Tampa, and Carolina all go easy on the Big Easy. Let New Orleans enjoy her reward. Longsuffering deserves a victory as big as a trip to Miami in February.
As for the city of jazz and jambalaya, may gale-force winds and hurricane waters circumvent your beauty and the progress that you’ve made since August 2005, and may your citizens for now continue to enjoy the refreshing embrace of a nice, cool, gentle Brees.