Sunday, February 7, 2010

Why This Super Bowl Matters

The following is an article written by Bob Marshall, a sportswriter for "The Times-Picayune" newspaper of New Orleans. As you shall soon see, he is far better equipped to discuss why this Super Bowl matters - and why it would be a truly wonderful thing if the New Orleans Saints win this game - then I will ever be. I wish I had the power to express these thoughts with the eloquence and passion of Mr. Marshall, but sadly, I have the misfortune of not being a Louisianan.

New Orleans Saints' success goes beyond football and its fans
By Bob Marshall, The Times-Picayune
February 02, 2010, 1:00AM

FORT LAUDERDALE, FLA. - If you spend most of your professional life writing about games people play, you also will spend plenty of time listening to friends asking: Why?

This is the scene the media covered: New Orleans Saints fans dancing on Bourbon Street after the team's NFC championship victory. What wasn't shown were similar scenes throughout the streets of New Orleans.They ask, "Who really cares what a bunch of overpaid, self-congratulating, post-adolescent millionaire jocks think or say?

Why do you lavish headlines and news space on a circle of billionaire businessmen who suck down huge profits, thanks to taxpayer subsidized stadium deals -- then walk about town acting like they're doing us a favor?

How can you put up with the NFL coaches who are condescending control freaks seeing enemies behind every quote?"

The sports pages, they tell me, are a waste of time, money and talent, which would be better spent on things that count. Usually, I have a hard time explaining sports-- and myself.

Not anymore.

The answer arrived last at the Superdome with the New Orleans Saints' heart-thumping 31-28 overtime victory against the Minnesota Vikings in the NFC championship game Jan. 24. It remains alive in New Orleans all this week, and some say it will linger even beyond.

Walk down any New Orleans street and look at the smiling faces, the Who Dat fist bumps, and you'll know this is why sports are relevant. It has the potential to touch and unite an entire community unlike anything else in our culture.

When Garrett Hartley's 40-yard field goal sailed true against the Vikings, what the Fox cameras showed the world was thousands of Who Dats rushing out of bars and filling Bourbon Street, because that's the New Orleans cliche. What they didn't see is just how deeply that moment ran through our community.

They didn't see tens of thousands of residents simultaneously rushing out of the front doors of the shotguns on North Claiborne or their State Street mansions, from homes on Piety or Third streets, on North Solomon or Octavia, on the lawns in Covington or Metairie, from apartments in Marrero or The East.

What they couldn't have known is that many of these people were not just die-hard football fans or Saints season-ticket holders, not just the sports junkies addicted to the game. It was many people who never cared before-- and might never again.

This wasn't just a victory lap for the sports fan. It was a cathartic scream, a cheer, a dance, a hug, a high five, chest thump, fist bump, a lay-on-the-lawn-and-kick-my-hands-and-feet-in-the-air-in delirium. It was a community feeling not just of overwhelming joy, but the release of mountains of frustrations, disappointments and sorrows that had nothing to do with football.

And during that moment, when everything else escaped, when the entire city was cheering and crying together and letting it all go, something very, very nice was left behind.

Suddenly, we were all family again.

Was I right or was I just another sports fan -- another sports writer -- trying to excuse my addiction to something that really doesn't matter?

I had the perfect sounding board, the Peabody-winning documentary filmmakers with The Center for New American Media happened to be in town working on a film about the city post-Katrina.

As with all good journalists, cliche is kryptonite to Louis Alvarez, Andy Kolker, Paul Steckler and Peter Odabashin. Plus they know the city. Alvarez and Kolker started their careers in this area from 1975 to 1985, and Steckler taught political science at Tulane from 1981 to 1985.

So when they went out to capture residents in the city's different demographics watching the game and celebrating its aftermath, what did they see?

None of what they feared, but plenty they will never forget.

"It was one of the greatest production days of my life, " Alvarez said. "And I know it sounds like a cliche, right, but there were times I did have tears I my eyes, because it was hard to look at all this human happiness -- four square blocks of it at one place -- and not be moved, because it was so genuine.

"It was a city that has gone through so much and a city that means a lot to me, and it was truly a great moment -- and I got caught up in it."

As they moved around the city, there was no denying what these skeptics were witnessing: Something profound had been unleashed by a sporting event.

Kolker had worried what they might film would be forced, a chamber-of-commerce type of moment, produced to paper over the very serious divisions that plague New Orleans.

Not so.

"In fact, we actually saw people coming together over something as, in some respects, weirdly irrelevant as a sports team, " he said. "But maybe that's what it takes, that sort of oddball thing to bring a town together.

"And it was very, very real. We were witnessing this cathartic moment of unity, and that was a cool thing -- and it remains a very cool thing. This football team accomplished this very cool thing."

No one expects this to fix the problems facing our city. You don't erase 300 years of suspicion and fear following the outcome of a football game -- but it's a start that might not fade.

"I think this will have a lasting impact, " Alvarez said. "I'm not saying this solves all the problems, but I believe it will bring people a step in that direction. Wherever they were before, they will be a little bit higher, a little bit further along the road than they were before the game -- and they'll stay there.

"And that's no small thing."

And that's why sports can be relevant.

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