COLUMN: Saints embrace the concept of America's ultimate underdog

By Jim Mashek/The Sun Herald (MCT)

MIAMI — Here’s all you need to know about the Super Bowl XLIV landscape here in South Florida:

It’s rabid, and it’s everywhere. It’s certifiable.

Certifiably Who Dat Country, that is. The New Orleans Saints are playing in the big game, and the women and children are not even bothering to hide. No way. They don’t need Pink telling them to Get The Party Started. Shoot, the party started two or three days ago. The kids are down, and the adults are, too.

Hey, there’s something for everybody in these parts.

Well, almost everybody. Just give the women and children a heads up. Bail bondsmen are gonna be busy during the weekend in South Florida.

“Some people can’t handle this city,” said Jeremy Shockey, the Saints’ colorful, brash tight end, a 29-year-old man-child who played his college ball at the University of Miami. “Anything you want is out there. You gotta make good decisions.”

Now you tell me.

Look, I know where Shockey is coming from. A couple of my New Orleans homeboys and I took in the Seminole Hard Rock experience on Thursday night. Saints fans were everywhere. In the restaurants, walking through the promenade, having the time of their lives. It was party time, pretty much all the time, believe me.

The Indianapolis Colts’ faithful? During the course of the, uh, night, I met a handful of nice, polite Hoosiers. They’re nuts about Peyton Manning.

Saints fans are just plain nuts. Well, for the most part. Suffice it to say they like to have a good time. And for lots of folks, it’s been a 43-year wait.

Our boy Jeremy Shockey has the floor. Again.

“I really don’t know much about Indianapolis,” he said. “New Orleans is a beautiful city. It’s very vibrant. There’s a lot of places to go . . . We have the best fans in the world supporting us. We’re playing for the fans, for the city, for everybody connected with the Saints.”

The Saints, obviously, are the sentimental favorite. And they’re America’s ultimate underdog, too, an NFL team that didn’t post a winning season in its first 20 years. It was a team more associated with a television sportcaster, the late Buddy Diliberto, channeling his Unknown Comic, wearing a brown paper bag over his head while delivering his Saints reports from one of the city’s historic French Quarter cemeteries.

These days, we only have to mention Hurricane Katrina in passing. Everybody can figure the rest out their own selves.

Even that first winning season, an impressive 12-3 campaign during the strike-torn 1987 run, ended in disaster. The Saints gave up a “Hail Mary” pass to Wade Wilson and the Minnesota Vikings, who buried them to the tune of 44-10 in the Louisiana Superdome.

Sean Payton, Drew Brees, Marques Colston, Scott Shanle and now Gregg Williams, the Saints’ colorful first-year defensive coordinator, have changed all that.

And then some.

The Saints have won 15 games, and lost three. One of those defeats, a 23-10 loss to Carolina, after the NFC home-field advantage had been earned for the playoffs, meant next to nothing.

Hey, you move on.

The Saints are tight. On the field, off the field. In the community. Uptown, downtown, in the Warehouse District, or at the Beau Rivage in Biloxi. You name it.

“We are a part of the city,” Saints defensive tackle Remi Ayodele said. “We play for the city. We play for Saints fans across the Gulf South, for Saints fans everywhere. When we go to restaurants, we don’t get private rooms. You don’t have to put us over here, over there. We sit, we blend and we play for the city.”

Yo, Remi, we get it. You play for the city. As Glenn Frey told us back in the day, you belong to the city. It’s all good, brother.

And even if Vegas says the Saints are a 5- or 6-point underdog, they’re used to it. They’re America’s ultimate underdog. Until 2010, the Saints had won two playoff games. Total. They’ve doubled that total overall the last month.


That’s symmetry.

“Honestly, the way we play, when we’re the underdog, I think it’s a good thing,” Shanle said. “I think we’re a confident team. We know we’re the underdog . . . I don’t mind them telling us that we can’t hang with somebody, or we shouldn’t be here.

“We embrace it. Go ahead and tell us we can’t do something.”

Not me, Mr. Shanle. No way, no how.

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