On Tuesday Atlanta Falcons WR Roddy White referred to the New Orleans Saints as Aints on Twitter. That was actually among the least combustible tweets he published, but it still struck Saints fans as fightin' words and set off a gleeful trending topic in Atlanta that's lasted most of Wednesday already.
Considering how heated this rivalry has been for almost half a century, you'd think it was Falcons fans who came up with the nickname. Actually, it was one of the most revered Saints men that tagged the team as such.
In 1980, the Saints lost 14 games in a row. Local sportscaster Buddy Diliberto started calling the team the Aints and came up with the idea for fans to start wearing paper bags on their heads at games -- if you've always wondered where that practice came from, there you go.
Saints futility raged on, and the nickname became a term of endearment. They've mustered a dismal 10 winning seasons in their 40-something-year history #math, a number trounced by Atlanta's league-high 11 #math. But they won the Super Bowl last year, leading to so very many headlines containing the words Aints no more -- 67,000 Google results worth at the moment. Saints fans even held a funeral for the nickname and everything. Jazz funeral, of course. Just like in Treme and probably True Blood. Don't even front like it's not OK to watch True Blood.
So why do Falcons fans persist in using the term? It's still an insult when Roddy White uses it, just as Dirty Birds is when said by a Saints fan, but isn't it petty and reactionary to cling to a nickname that was made obsolete by last year's Super Bowl? The only difference is no Falcons fan has ever been bothered by that handle, while Aints is like magic, and better than ever:
Because when it comes to exorcising the past, one championship isn't going to cut it. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers won a Super Bowl in the past decade, too -- do people talk about that great season, or do they talk about the creamsicle uniform days? One championship has done nothing for Tampa's national profile, or even their esteem in the NFC South.
The Saints have one more Lombardi than their cousins around the corner, but they're nowhere near the top of the NFL hierarchy. Who's gotten more shine this year -- the 10-4 Saints, or the 10-4 New York Jets and Philadelphia Eagles? The Saints aren't the Aints in New Orleans anymore, but they've got a long, long way to go to matter annually to the rest of the league.
This isn't to say they're not a great football team, derp. Drew Brees runs an offense any defense should be afraid of, and Sean Payton is often a genius, and so forth, but in the long run the Saints do not matter nationally any more than the Falcons do. The media loved the Saints for one year, and the storyline extinguished itself in satisfying fashion for all upon Brees winning SI's Sportsman of the Year award. Calling the Saints the Aints reminds us all that no matter how great their Super Bowl team was, they're still stuck at the very bottom of the NFL map, right alongside the Dirty Birds. In that sense, the NFC South is nothing but Aints from top to bottom.
It's a versatile nickname that way. When the Falcons are up, the Saints are nothing but Aints. And even when the Saints are up, they're still the NFL's Aints, just like the rest of us.
A funeral isn't always enough to keep something in the dirt, especially not something as glorious as Aints. If we didn't learn that from True Blood, it's certainly in The Walking Dead.