"One of these days the people of Louisiana are going to get good government -- and they aren't going to like it."
- Huey Long
Perhaps the NFL just gave the New Orleans Saints a new form of their favorite thing – very special treatment.
There's no city, no fan base better equipped to channel outrage than New Orleans, where the only differences between a parade and a public protest are the number of Lucky Dog vendors and the posted curfew.
Who Dat Nation has been saying for years how different New Orleans, the Saints, the 2009 team and their fans are from anything else in the world of sports. Different special. Different better. Different wholly unique. We cultural Plebians of 404 suburbia simply can't grasp this wonderment, and if we can and still reject it, it's simply out of jealousy. This is why, even when absent large numbers and alcohol, Saints fans can still be so wonderfully infuriating.
Certainly there’s no denying the splendor of New Orleans. Its appeal is rooted in characteristics found nowhere else from a people who dared to hold on to (and even celebrate) the pastiche of their cultures, and do so even now. As a Southerner hailing from and residing in more homogenous, gentrified areas, I applaud them. As a sports fan of the rival team, I loathe their never-ending demands that the world pay homage to their charm.
The Saints culture is programmed to reject commonality, so don’t explain to a Saints fan that the walloping punishment was almost certainly more in response to the cover-up than the actual crime. Who Dat Nation refuses to advance the conversation regarding organized bounty systems past the wobbly defense that the practice is (or maybe was) endemic across the NFL. You’re asking the colorblind to swatch shades of gray.
Goodell caught the Saints doing what many other teams apparently have done for years. Goodell must know that.
Again, the Saints deserved to be punished. Indeed, they deserved to be hammered.
They just didn't deserve what they got.
Trust me: your self-satisfaction will sooner starve than receive an ounce of remorse over institutional corruption from a Louisianan. This is the state – and New Orleans the philosophical capital – that took the Dionysian Chicago political machines of the 1920s and managed to perfect that blueprint for applications in the oil and gas industries, in a port city, in the South.
It’s delicious irony for any fan of the Atlanta Falcons, as our rivals have for the first time copped to being merely rank and file. For the first time ever, the Saints want you to believe they aren’t special, and that the bounty ring in question is a ubiquitous, downright vanilla philosophy of simple rule-abiding player motivation that's embraced 32 teams wide.
But New Orleans wants it that way, and so be it. Infuriating as it can be, there's enough uniformity in our American culture (and most certainly in the NFL). At their lowest or highest, New Orleans doesn’t want to be America, they want to be New Orleans. Accept that and you can learn to appreciate New Orleans for all but a handful of Sunday afternoons every year.
But understand this -- celebrating the fall of Bounty-Gate tastes sweet, but most hubris does. Fear the 2012 New Orleans Saints. Pray to your football God that they don't gain inexorable steam late in the season and slip into the NFC Playoff fold.
And I consider such a playoff run "inexorable" only because the specific player suspensions are still pending. The NFLPA is well equipped to counter monster-sized suspensions, and there's some merit to the claim that coaches are just coaches. But if names like Roman Harper and Jonathan Vilma are lost for the duration, the reality of a depth chart and a 16-game season ignores literary conceits. In some ways, the real fate of the '12 Saints has yet to be determined.
There's also the added wrinkle of the city hosting the 2013 Super Bowl, and a certain lackluster feeling (maybe, and I'll preface this by stating that I'd certainly be willing to risk it) if a NFC South team like the Falcons were to make it that far in a year when their blood rival (and reigning kings) was neutered. Eventually NFL trends solve themselves, and the way Monte Kiffin's Tampa-2 "solved" Michael Vick, or gap assignments stymied The Wildcat, is the way Atlanta or some other franchise should've provided an answer to Drew Brees' passing attack. Now it can't happen that way.
2011 did little to advance the story of this rivalry. Just as the season before, when January came, Atlanta's offense produced a nervous fart and New Orleans' defense evaporated on the West Coast. But in the framework of the two teams, it was evident that the Saints were the better outfit -- sometimes by a little, sometimes by a lot. Before Atlanta could solve this riddle in the years to come, an executive hand has swooped in to erase virtually the entire puzzle of beating New Orleans.
If you can willingly understand "The Nation of New Orleans" as our opponent's mantra, you can understand what a grave mistake Roger Goodell has made by not merely punishing (which they deserve), but temporarily extinguishing the Saints. At its core, the most powerful and successful sports league in the nation hates a rebel. The League has tried for years to flush out "maverick" operators like Jerry Jones and Dan Snyder when they strayed from the path set forth (see also: Raiders, Oakland).
But never before has the NFL dumped this kind of acrimony on top of a fan base with such a hereditary disposition to isolationism and contempt. For decades, New Orleans football fans searched for relevance, along with woebegone lots like Atlanta, Cincinnati and modern day Jacksonville. Now that they have that safely in the record books, Saints fans just need the smallest of perceived sleights to brew a righteous indignation and become rebels the likes of which the league's never dreamed.
Now the same citywide maxims applied to government, business and state -- "New Orleans isn't America, it's New Orleans, and you don't understand us" -- can be copied and pasted neatly into rhetoric damning the NFL and its 31 favorite children. Right or wrong, acute or insane, this is a culture with a ton of practice exercising disgust at national governing bodies and business. New Orleans, its fans and its cultural leaders won't back down from Sean Payton's suspension any more than they've shied away from the media spotlight when faced with any other perceived persecution.
Matt Ryan wants what Drew Brees did. Atlanta wants the title New Orleans won (and, hysteric moral bullshit aside, won fair and square and without need of any asterisk, now or ever, end of that), but we want it by dethroning the wonderful, terrible, hated team who got it before us. However, when the eventual 2013 Champion is crowned, it too will come without an asterisk (*didn't face a complete New Orleans Saints squad).
That won't stop howls and a fiercer-than-ever show of colors among Who Dat Nation. This will stretch on for years and years, and extend far past the Gulf. New Orleans, fair or not, deserving or not, has been effectively removed from the chance to play in and win the Super Bowl in their home stadium as a result of unprecedented punishments from the same league that demanded its owner keep the franchise alive after Katrina. That goodwill is lost forever now, and for the near future, Roger Goodell's verdict ensures that being a Saints fan means identifying yourself as a hated rival to every other team every season, and in some ways, the sport itself.
Take it from someone well versed in the ways of his enemy: those bastards really won't bow, don't know how.