Is God on the Saintsí side?

FATHER RAYMOND J. DE SOUZA

Will the Saints go marching in?

The old spiritual is about heaven: How I want to be in that number, when the saints go marching in … And should New Orleans win the Super Bowl this Sunday, many of the team's fans will consider it heaven on Earth. If the devil were trading football victories for souls on Bourbon Street, one fears that he would do a brisk business.

New Orleans loves the Saints. Football—college and professional—is a powerful cultural force across the American south, but between Atlanta and Texas there are no NFL teams save for the Saints. So since the Saints began playing in 1967, they have enjoyed wide devotion. They were loved when they were the "Ain'ts," losing far more often than winning. And they were loved during the long 1970s when their star quarterback, Archie Manning, was something of a one-man show. On Sunday, Archie's loyalties will be divided, for his Saints will be facing the Indianapolis Colts; and their star quarterback is none other than his son Peyton Manning—better even than his father was, and one of the best of all time.

The Saints have been loved with the long-suffering love that fans reserve for perennial losers. The Saints have never won a Super Bowl. They have never been in a Super Bowl. They entered the league in 1967, meaning that they have gone championship-free for as long as the Toronto Maple Leafs, without the benefit a proud history before that.

But since 2005, when Hurricane Katrina ripped the heart out of New Orleans (and the roof off the Superdome), the Saints have become even more intensely associated with their city. There was initial pain when it was thought that the Saints might move, and then rejoicing when they stayed. The Saints' return to the Superdome on Monday Night Football in 2006 was one of the most emotionally charged moments in the history of American sports.

A spiritual bond has since been established between the team and its city, as if somehow the rise of the Saints post-Katrina is the rise of the city from the waters of the flood. A Super Bowl for the Saints would no doubt be considered an act of God—perhaps considered divine compensation for the act of God that laid the city low.

No other team has quite the religious trappings of the Saints, which is suitable for New Orleans, where the sacred and very profane jostle for room. They call their corporate sponsors "patron saints." There is a cheering nun on the banner of their homepage. And they are not shy about calling upon God for a little assistance.

The Saints customarily have a Mass celebrated before their Sunday games, which is not uncommon in the NFL. But on Monday? Saints' owner Tom Benson, a practising Catholic, opted for a pregame Mass this past season before their biggest game, the Monday night contest against the New England Patriots. He had the Mass offered by the Archbishop of New Orleans, Gregory Aymond, his retired predecessor Archbishop Philip Hannan, and for good measure, Archbishop Jose Gomez of San Antonio, where the Saints played in the aftermath of Katrina. Theologically, a Mass by a simple country pastor is no less efficacious than one with three archbishops, but one wants to be sure. The Saints shellacked the Patriots in their coming-out party as one of the NFL's elite teams. If it were possible, Benson would likely have the College of Cardinals in for the Super Bowl.

No other team has quite the religious trappings of the Saints, which is suitable for New Orleans, where the sacred and very profane jostle for room.

So is God on the Saints' side? That might be pushing it a little too far—after all, the Colts have fans, too. But if the Lord comforts the afflicted and restoreth the years that the locust has eaten, it would be fitting for the Saints to go marching in.

In 1966, the new team was announced for New Orleans on All Saints Day, Nov. 1. In due course it was proposed that the team be named after the famous hymn, which doubles as a jazz number in New Orleans funeral processions—a double entendre more relevant during the losing years. The then-governor of Louisiana asked Archbishop Hannan if the name might be sacrilegious. The archbishop said no, but warned that "from the viewpoint of the Church, most of the saints were martyrs." The long suffering may soon be over.



 


ACKNOWLEDGEMENT

Father Raymond J. de Souza, "Is God on the Saintsí side?" National Post, (Canada) February 4, 2010.

Reprinted with permission of the National Post and Fr. de Souza.

THE AUTHOR

Father Raymond J. de Souza is chaplain to Newman House, the Roman Catholic mission at Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario. Father de Souza's web site is here. Father de Souza is on the advisory board of the Catholic Education Resource Center.

Copyright © 2010 National Post




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