Depressing things have happened quite a lot lately. Hurricanes. River polluting. Depressed economy.
But the most depressing thing to happen last week took place in the sports journalism world — specifically, last week’s Peter King Monday Morning Quarterback. Worst of all, this one was propped up as something laudable, something professional, something to which we should aspire.
Maybe it’s not a big deal that the Packers didn’t have a big ceremony to raise the banner or a ceremony when the fourth Lombardi Trophy was put in a case outside the locker room. And when the Packers play the opener Sept. 8 against New Orleans, there will be a simple “2010” unveiled near the other 12 years the team won a championship. No flags, no banners. Just a year, with, as GM Ted Thompson told me, “sort of a tablecloth over it, and we’ll pull that off, and then we’ll play football. That’s what we’re supposed to do.” The celebrations are Ted Thompson’s responsibility. And so banners are going to be put up when no one is looking — in this case, by stadium workers on a quiet day in June with no attention — and there won’t be any pomp, because in Thompson’s world, this is the Packer Way. Act like you’ve been there before. This is what the Packers are supposed to do.
In my head there’s this image of a pasty, mustached, cheese-wearing, green-shirted man kind of nodding at the latest Lombardi Trophy, which is high on a dusty shelf in the corner of a walk-in closet over at Packers HQ; this is their Lombardi Trophy Shelf, and it’s across the way from the NFL Championship Trophies and General Memorabilia Shelf, upon which is displayed the framed Certificate of Achievement presented to Curly Lambeau after his Packers won the league for the first time.
There’s no need for me to paint a picture of Lombardi Gras: We all experienced it. There’s no reason for me to talk about the way my brother, driving from Baton Rouge on the day of the Saints Parade, had to park his car in the parking lot of a Walgreens in Mid-City because it was physically impossible for him to navigate any street closer than that; he caught the streetcar and, even when he finally made it downtown, couldn’t maneuver through the compressed bodies in the crowd and eventually just gave up, went into the Quarter, met up with an NOPD friend, and watched on TV.
I don’t have to remind you that there are crowd estimates indicating a larger number of Lombardi Gras attendees than there are citizens of Orleans Parish. And if you want to relive the emotions you experienced back then, all you need to do is remember — or maybe spend an hour on YouTube watching any of those hundreds of Super Bowl Saints fan reaction videos. That the Packers, following their initial Super Bowl night celebrations, accepted their latest Lombardi Trophy with a kind of shrug and maybe a few stories about, like, actual Vince Lombardi is, to me, one of the saddest things I’ve heard.
Sport allows us to experience things that real life doesn’t always want us to. Sport lets us live on pure emotion, and when you succeed at the highest levels in sport, you have an opportunity to experience pure positive emotion that very little else allows. So: What’s the point of winning a sports championship if you’re not going to celebrate that championship to the greatest possible emotional extent? Why even bother if, when you get to the end, your only reaction is to say you’ve already been there?
The Second-Greatest Moment in New Orleans Saints History: 7 February 2010. Tracy Porter’s Super Bowl Pick-Six.
It’s hard to write about the moment of the Tracy Porter interception in the 2010 Super Bowl — a fact that confirms its status as the greatest pure football moment in team history. The moment is a blur: Porter jumps the route, grabs the pass, takes off to score a certain touchdown, but as he’s flying down the sideline our living room becomes this little human tsunami, limbs flailing and friends and family members bouncing into and out of embraces and then usually back into them; kisses happening, tears flowing. At some point the front door flies open and we charge out onto the front lawn and some of us fall to our knees screaming and others of us keep jumping and flailing and hugging and kissing, and then somewhere fireworks start exploding. It’s ridiculously cinematic, but it actually happened that way, a blindingly brilliant sentimental thing that “real” life has only ever surpassed (or even mimicked) once, that I know of.
Friends have argued that this moment should be the greatest Saints moment; other friends have told me that maybe it should actually trail the Hartley Kick, and I considered both arguments. I’ll explain my points about the former when I get to Moment Number One next week, but in the case of the latter: At first I almost agreed, almost switched things around. After all, when Hartley kicked us into the Super Bowl, the New Orleans Saints had finally reached the summit of the ultimate mountain. We’d finally climbed to the top and stood there with only the sky above us, and held out our arms and screamed our defiant glee. The Hartley kick represented our final triumph over four decades of adversity. If the Saints had lost the Super Bowl, I would have been disappointed, but not necessarily crushed. In a sense, then, there was less at stake in the Super Bowl; the floor was higher, we didn’t have as far to fall. Because of this, in the two weeks before kickoff, I thought something like, “I don’t know if anything in the Super Bowl can top how I felt when we got to the Super Bowl.”
I was wrong. When Tracy Porter touched off Lombardi Gras, we were rocketed immediately from the top of the mountain straight into heaven. In one moment we were lifted higher into the sky than we had managed in four decades of tedious hand-over-hand climbing—with our many, many accompanying slips and falls. We’d reached the end of existence.
There, at the end, the Green Bay Packers evidently found a sign like the one from Monopoly that gives you two hundred bucks and sends you back to the beginning.
But we, in New Orleans, when we get there we find the greatest positive communal emotional experience there is; we throw the best party in the universe, because that’s the point of it all: to experience pure, free joy in a world that generally prohibits the feeling.
I used to wonder what a fan’s motivation could possibly be for wanting more and more championships after winning one. Now I know. Every new year is a chance to throw that party again.
Last week NolaVie published Bradley Warshauer’s Third Greatest Moment in Saints History. Next week we will publish his Greatest Moment in Saints History. For more on the Saints from Warshauer, check out his blog at Saints 11. For more information on NolaVie, visit NolaVie.com.