Who Dat! Who Dat say they gonna beat them Saints?

WHO DAT! WHO DAT! SAY THEY GONNA BEAT THEM SAINTS!?

Although this cheer may sound completely ridiculous to those who are not indoctrinated in the world of football, it is an exciting and welcoming greeting to fans of the New Orleans Saints. Not long ago, I had finished my grocery shopping on a wet and warm day in Houston. Walking to my car, I noticed a group of people standing next to my car, seemingly waiting for me. Cautiously, I pushed the grocery cart near, and all of a sudden cheers from the group rang out to greet me, “Who Dat! Who Dat!” Of course! My car, decorated with three fleur de lis emblems, is code for “Huge Saints fan inside.” The Louisiana group near my car was in Houston for the weekend. We loudly whooped and hollered for a while and proceeded with our respective Saturday plans.

What I love about being a Saints fan is that it’s an automatic family inclusion. I’ve become friends with Saints fans on Facebook and Twitter. We send messages back and forth and know each other’s family situations and life struggles. We watch the games and tweet or post to Facebook our frustrations and joy in real time. We are there to comfort each other during loses and to virtual high-five after a score or when we get a much-needed win.

Loyal in High Times and Low Times

We consider ourselves the “real” fans, not bandwagon fans who came to be temporary fans during our Super Bowl run, then rejected the team after several 7-9 seasons. Even though many of us do not live in New Orleans, we maintain our loyalty to the Saints even after we relocated to other cities with NFL teams. We all felt the devastation and wrath of Katrina, whether we lived in NOLA at the time or not. We are Louisiana natives and those who came to love the team for various, often personal, reasons. We live all over the world, but we keep in touch daily through social media. We share the high times and low times. Both the pain of Katrina and the ecstasy of Super Bowl XLIV are forever emotionally etched in our souls and psyches.

As you may know, the Saints historically were a pretty bad team for much of the franchise’s existence. You may recall fans wearing bags on their heads for the games. That being said, they still showed up and cheered for the team during those lean years. Year by year, the team got better, gradually acquiring quality players and coaches. Each year brought a glimmer of hope to the long-suffering Saints fans. Then Katrina.

Sadly, the season after Katrina wreaked havoc on the city in 2005, the team was not able to play in NOLA, so its games were played in various cities, including San Antonio. I attended one of those games, and it was a gut-wrenching experience for me. If you have ever been to a game at the Louisiana Mercedes Benz Superdome, you know what I mean. Gone were the many characters that make up the unique flavor of a Saints game. Gone was the roving jazz band during the games. Gone were the spectacular parties outside the Dome before the game. Gone was everything black and gold. I think we cried and grieved all the way home.

Thankfully, the Football Gods (and politics) intervened, and the next year the city was ready to host the team back in New Orleans. All was right with the world when U2 and Green Day opened the game with “The Saints are Coming,” an emotional and tear-jerking performance. We played our division rivals, the Atlanta Falcons, and at the beginning of the game, Steve Gleason blocked a punt that was recovered for a touchdown. As fate would have it, the Saints went on to win the game.

Loyalty as a Value

Being a Saints fan, I have never thought about not being a fan when the team was losing. Loyalty is one of my deeply held values. I was a loyal Saints fan when I moved to Texas. I remained a loyal fan before the Super Bowl and until this day, even when it seemed like we’d never get a good defense or achieve any record better than 7-9. I witnessed loyal Saints fans waiting at the NOLA airport until the wee hours of the morning to greet the team after a win or loss. I saw videos of miles of Saints fans in the dark, a long line snaking down the street, cheering and yelling their joy and gratitude for what this team brought to the city and to their lives. 

Loyalty can be a family value, lovingly handed down from generation to generation. One of my closest Twitter friends tweeted the following:

I remember sitting in my daddy’s lap cheering for the Saints. We were losing a lot back then. Daddy said, ‘Never give up on what you love because it’s not working RIGHT now. Support ain’t easy.’

Loyalty is about loving someone or something through both prosperous and trying times. It’s being there to cheer someone on when they are having a rough time, even if that period lasts a few years. It’s about feeling disappointed, but having a connection that won’t be severed even though your heart is broken. Loyalty means having hope and finding joy in loving someone or something regardless of the outcome.

That is how I learned about loyalty from the Saints. I get disappointed, but I am not going to throw away my figurative Who Dat Card for the next shiny thing, person, or team. It takes perseverance. It takes focus and dedication. It means that you face disappointment, but you ask, “What can I learn from this?” I’ve learned to let go of a bad game within 24 hours (the 24-hour rule): a tactic that helps me let go of other unpleasant situations in life. I’ve learned to laugh when people yell “Aints’!” at me. I learned to deeply value the relationships I have on social media with fellow Saints fans.

How do you teach your children loyalty? If your favorite sports team of the moment is not doing well, do you deride and bash that team, its players, and coaches? What message are you sending in how you treat success and failure? If a person or team doesn’t win, then does he or she not deserve your loyalty or support? Even though it is subtle, messages are sent regarding our perspectives on winning and losing.

Loyalty. It’s a practice that will reward you. Take some time in the next few days to reflect on your relationships. Ask yourself these questions: How does loyalty show up for you in your life? Is loyalty one of your values? Is it conditional? Is it open and loving? Loyalty is a gift that keeps on giving. Open your heart to loyalty today. See what happens.

Photo Credit: Ben Hershey, Unsplash.com