Sunday, January 10, 2010

Strength to Cheer

The ‘Who Dat’ fever has swept across America, and the people of Louisiana couldn’t be prouder of its Saints. Dreams of a Super Bowl hang in the air, and everyone from children to grandmothers are dressing in black and gold to show support.

But there was a time when both the Saints’ playing record and popularity weren’t as bright. The team’s somewhat famous losses sparked jokes and rumors that they had been jinxed or had the voodoo on them. Although fans popped up here and there to support our boys during winning seasons, only a few die-hard cheerleaders had the strength to raise their poms-poms during the good times and the bad.

“I’ve been in the Super Dome when it’s at its fullest capacity,” says Saints’ fan (and my sister), Sandy Richard. “And I’ve been in it when it was almost empty.”

Sandy is a thirty-five year Saints’ fan veteran who believes it is her duty to support this Louisiana team. It was during a recent game we attended together that I realized just how serious and devoted she was to her calling. In addition to wearing an authentic black and gold jersey with Brees written across the back, she purchased a football program and a giant fountain drink to get a souvenir cup.

“My most memorable moment was when I came to a play-off game here at the Super Dome in 2006,” Sandy said. “The energy of the fans was overwhelming. I felt unified with the crowd because we all wanted a victory.”

A couple of women dressed from head to toe in fleur de lis prints danced around my sister and me like they were at the greatest party on earth. Although I’ve never followed sports closely, I was somewhat drawn into the excitement of the event.

“It’s like a family,” Sandy said. “Over the years, you learn so much about the coaches and the players, you feel like you know them.”

I borrowed Sandy’s football program to brush up on my Saints’ knowledge. At a game the year before, I made the mistake of asking the name of the quarterback. Sandy told me that I embarrassed her, and to not ask any more questions until we left the Super Dome.

“Football is something I’ve always shared with my friends and family,” said Sandy. “Especially dad, because he’s the one who got me to start watching.”

The Saints won that night, and as I cheered with millions of fans across America, I felt the unity of which Sandy had spoken. It filled me with energy, and gave me the sense we’d all accomplished something great.

“It’s fun when they win,” I said. “But what gives you the strength to follow the team during their tough times?”

“Pride and dreams,” Sandy responded. “I’m proud to be from Louisiana, and it’s a dream of mine that the Saints go to the Super Bowl. When they do, it will mean that other dreams can come true as well.”

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