By Jon Klein
On September 15th, a rematch eight months overdue ensued between the Saints and the Rams. After the heartbreaking loss to Los Angeles in the NFC Championship game in January, a Week 2 match up seemed like a perfect time for cable to stage Drew Brees and the rest of New Orleans enacting their revenge on the Rams and the NFL’s officiating. However, while the narrative was set, the outcome left a bitter taste in Saints fans’ mouths.
The New Orleans Saints fell to the Los Angeles Rams, 27-9, and if that wasn’t bad enough, their starting quarterback situation added injury to insult. After two unproductive drives in the 1st quarter ended in an interception and a punt, Drew Brees jogged back to sideline caressing his right thumb. At the time, no one was sure what caused the discomfort, but that was the last time Saints fans saw number nine under center.
It was later revealed that the Hall of Fame quarterback sustained a thumb injury that will sideline him until around Week 9, assuming a successful surgery and recovery. A game that should’ve been a source of optimism and hope in the early season now has fans confused and unsure how to react. I spoke with several fans last Sunday before kickoff about the repercussions of the injury. One long-time fan, Roger McClellan, recalled memories of Jim Mora in the 80’s and how the unfortunate history of the Saints franchise has carried over into the present:
“I remember 11-5 seasons, 12-4 seasons turning into wild card losses year after year. We’ve gotten better, but without 2009 there wouldn’t be much of a difference. The heartbreak stings every time.” McClellan has been a fan of the black and gold since the 70’s, long enough to remember a time when the Jazz didn’t play in Utah. I asked about his favorite recent memories as a Saints fan. He replied with a brief story about the Cardinals vs Saints, NFC Divisional game in the 2009-2010 season, the highlight of which was Reggie Bush returning a punt for a touchdown, en route to a blowout win that him and his son experienced together outside the stadium.
I’ve had two Champion Square experiences in my time in New Orleans. My first visit, approximately eight months ago on a windy Sunday in January, was an indicating glimpse of the sports culture this city has. It was the game that defined their presence in the league to date– fans flabbergasted, disgruntled, and reactionary enough to cause a new rule implemented to review pass interferences after one call in one game. I felt like I’d seen an assassination because a one second event caused a ten minute silence. After witnessing their reactions to the missed pass interference call and how befuddled the innumerable swarm of people surrounding me were (pictured), I can only imagine how it felt to have their rematch be spoiled by a more long-term setback than the loss itself.
The loss of Drew Brees will be a struggle, but not a finishing blow to the Saints’ season by any means. Die-hard fan, breakfast chef, and Uber driver Richard spoke optimistically about the foreseeable future. When I asked for his prediction on the Saints record without Drew Brees, he said, “we ain’t losing more than one game.” His bold prediction about the team post-injury may not be reciprocated by the entire city, but that doesn’t mean they’ve lost any hope. As he dropped me off outside the Superdome, Richard said “Everyone in this city knows how good we are. Drew’s one of the best, but he’s not the only dog we got out there”.
This was my second visit to Champion Square; I, along with a few hundred New Orleans fans watched the Saints stun the 2-0 Seattle Seahawks with a convincing road win in the absence of Brees. From my experience this past Sunday watching a crowd grow newfound hope and a positive attitude, I can say that while some fans might not expect the team to be perfect without Brees, the sentiment that they’ll land on their feet is echoed throughout the city.
Drew Brees isn’t solely responsible for the rejuvenation of Saints fandom, but the revival would never have happened without him. The last time the Saints spent more than five weeks with a different quarterback was in 2006 when Drew Brees was a member of the Chargers and Aaron Brooks was primarily in command of New Orleans’ offense, so this will be an adjustment period regardless of team success.
While New Orleans continues to remain confident in their team and their backup quarterbacks (Taysom Hill, Teddy Bridgewater), opposing fans will see them winning and wonder one thing: WHO DAT?