Seated in the second row at the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra concert last Friday night, I nudged Stewart and pointed out the concertmaster, tuning up his violin to lead his fellow musicians into perfect pitch.
“Is that the guy who starts the Who Dat chant before play begins?” Stewart whispered back.
Yep, it’s a black and gold town. And, in fact, after the third encore had faded into silence at the Mahalia Jackson Theater that night, as everyone was rising to leave, some wag in the balcony did indeed start a Who Dat chant.
The erudite and musically astute audience instantly took up the cry with enthusiasm, giving it three exuberant rounds that echoed around the vaulted hall with every bit as much resonance as the series of Paul McCartney tunes that had preceded it.
Now, safely on the other side of Saturday’s resounding victory against the Detroit Lions, I have just two words to say.
Like every other Saints fan, we have our rituals, from what we wear (my fleur-de-lis earrings; his Malcolm Jenkins jersey) to where we park before the game (no torture can make me divulge our secret spot) and what we eat at the Dome (popcorn, him; jambalaya, me).
In a town where voodoo has roots with long tentacles and NFL losses have been blamed on a long-forgotten cemetery buried beneath the Superdome’s end zone, the word jinx carries potent magic.
So when, 10 days ago, Stewart bought plane tickets to San Francisco, I was certain that he had singlehandedly dashed the Saints’ playoff hopes. And when he went online at the same time to buy tickets to the divisional playoff game in San Francisco – opponent, time and day TBA – I was sure of it.
It’s like spending the payoff to a lottery ticket before the numbers are ever pulled.
Now, with the end-zone seats he bought for Saturday’s game up another hundred bucks in the 49ers’ Candlestick Park, Stewart is looking pretty prescient.
And there’s a host of other push-their-luck believers out there heading west, too. Suddenly I’m fielding queries from twenty-, thirty- and sixtysomething acquaintances about when they’re leaving, where they’re staying, how to get to the game.
Road trips are relative, of course. My daughter and a bunch of friends scrimped for seats in the nosebleed section of the stadium and are crashing on various acquaintances’ sofas. A business friend has organized a private jet.
What all of us share is a love of our city, a passion for our team, and a closet full of black and gold accessories. So I have no doubt that, wherever they stay, Saints fans will find one another with the sort of natural magnetism that keeps compass needles pointing northward.
Last year Stewart and I staged a road trip to Phoenix for the Saints/Cardinals game, where it took us about five minutes to find the smattering of New Orleans tailgaters. Within minutes of our spotting a Saints jersey amid that sea of red, someone had shoved a plate of crawfish etouffee into one hand and a cold Abita Amber into the other.
In San Francisco, an epicenter of Saints communality will no doubt be the Black Magic Voodoo Lounge on Lombard Street, where ex-pat New Orleanians have been celebrating Saints games for years. The décor is retro Carnival, the beer menu satisfyingly Southern, and second lines spontaneous and frequent.
Not that it takes a rendez-vous point to bring Saints fans together. We Who Dats seem to have a kind of homing instinct in our DNA, a beacon that calls to like kind. How many times have you run into a fellow New Orleanian at a mall in Houston, an airport lounge in Milwaukee or, as I have, Fortnum and Mason in London or Fouchon’s in Paris (both culinary emporiums, after all)?
Perhaps it’s because we like to talk to people, we tend to congregate, and we live in and appreciate the moment, here and abroad. For whatever reason, the lone black-and-gold denizen you spot across that sea of screaming 49er fans is sure to become an instant and warmly welcomed comrade in arms.
Still, when it’s a road show, you have to be prepared to navigate rough and often solitary territory.
I remember the guy in full Viking regalia, including furs and horns, who sat behind us for the Minnesota championship game in the Dome in 2009. Do I really want to be the Saints equivalent at Candlestick Park?
And the rigors of road show travel can be demoralizing in other ways as well.
One year we stopped in Philadelphia en route to my daughter’s college for an Eagles/Saints game, where the Philly fans were rumored to be particularly vicious. When I commented to a seatmate that the home crowd was more gentle than expected, he replied, “Oh, I would have been a lot meaner to you if you weren’t so old.”
Saints mania isn’t easy. And none of us would give it up for the world.
Two words. Road show. Or, maybe, Who Dat.
Renee Peck, a former feature editor and writer at The Times-Picayune, is editor of NolaVie.