x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Let's hear it for the Saints and their city

If you are not a fan of either side but need to support one, the obvious reason to cheer for the Saints is because of how deeply their city suffered during Hurricane Katrina.

The odd thing about the Super Bowl, traditionally the most viewed event on American television, is that only two of the 32 NFL teams are represented. So why do fans of the 30 teams that did not make it watch the game? Well, it is an event. It is an American tradition to watch the Super Bowl with family and friends. But when the game starts, you have to pick a side. You have to cheer for one team or the other.

There is no middle ground, no watching passively as the two teams go at it for the biggest trophy in American sport. So with the match up of the Indianapolis Colts and the New Orleans Saints, the choice should be simple. If you are not a Colts fan, you really have to give me a reason why you would not support the Saints. I know the Colts are a great team and their quarterback, Peyton Manning, is one of the best players in NFL history, but they won a title just three years ago.

The obvious reason to cheer for the Saints is because of how deeply their city suffered during Hurricane Katrina in 2005. New Orleans was devastated. People died and the world watched in horror as the chaos and misery dragged on for days and weeks. The Saints' football home, the Superdome, was used as a mass homeless shelter during the days after the hurricane. "This is for everybody in this city. This is for New Orleans," said the Saints' coach, Sean Payton, after his team had beaten the Minnesota Vikings to clinch their place in the Super Bowl.

The Saints' own quarterback, Drew Brees, saw the devastation first hand and has been a big part of the city's revival and the Saints' rise to become an NFL power "In reality, we had to lean on each other in order to survive and in order to get where we are now," Brees said. "The city is on its way to recovery, and in a lot of ways has come back better than ever. We've used the strength and resiliency of our fans to go out and play every Sunday and play with the confidence that we can do it, that we can achieve everything we've set out to achieve."

Even if you discount the emotion generated by Katrina, the Saints' decades of mediocrity make this franchise worth cheering for. From their inception in 1967, the Saints did not even make the play-offs for their first two decades of their existence. And they did not win their first play-off game until 2006. I remember watching a pathetic Saints team on television in the 1980s, when embarrassed fans used to sit in the stands with paper bags on their heads.

They were a joke. If that is not enough to get your vote, we found out this week that the Saints have one more fan. "I think both teams are terrific," the US President, Barack Obama, said of the Super Bowl match up. "I guess I'm rooting a little bit for the Saints as the underdog, partly just because, when I think about what's happened to New Orleans over the last several years, and how much that team means to them, I'm pretty sympathetic."

There is one New Orleans resident who will be rooting against the Saints, and I can understand why. It is the former Saints quarterback Archie Manning, who is the father of Peyton Manning. "I'm going to pull for my son," Archie said. "Sean Payton knows that. He's a great friend of mine. "Drew Brees knows that. That's just the way it is. Anybody who thinks different must not have children." Archie has a good excuse for not getting behind the Saints - do you?