The people in New Orleans have a reputation for being easy going. Not just the usual Southern charm, which we've met in spades since we moved here, but a real laid back, party in the face of disaster attitude. Hence the nickname, the Big Easy.
But everywhere we go these days, we're confronted with people in agony. The people of New Orleans are distraught. They are beside themselves and they don't know what to do.
Because their Saints, their beloved Saints, are 0-3 and things aren't likely to get better any time soon.
It's been a tough year for the locals who love the Saints – and that's pretty much everybody around here. It started in late winter with the ignominy of being fingered in a bounty scandal that made the team look like a bunch of evil, money-grubbing headhunters. Then the coach was suspended for a year, the interim coach is suspended for half a year, and various players may or may not be under sanctions.
And now the defense can't stop anybody.
I hope they don't learn that it's all my fault.
I was born a Cubs fan, the son of a Cubs fan who was himself the son of a Cubs fan. For anyone who knows anything about sports curses, that's three generations of bad mojo. The Cubs are the oldest team in baseball, but they haven't won a World Series since 1908, haven't even played in the fall classic since 1945, when they became the victims of "The Curse of Billy's Goat." (As Casey Stengel said, "You could look it up.")
I first started really following baseball in earnest in 1969, which Chicagoans will tell you was the year of the big swoon. The team was laden with stars, including Ernie Banks (my all time favorite ball player,) Ron Santo, Billy Williams, Fergie Jenkins, Randy Hundley and Ken Holtzman. (I still have my Billy Williams autograph fielder's glove.) They started the season like a house afire, building an 8 1/2 game lead by mid-August. Then they collapsed and the Amazin' Mets, who until then had never won anything and were notable only for on-field zaniness, went on a tear. The Cubs finished 8 games back and the Mets impossibly won the World Series, and my heart was broken by a sports event. The first time of many.
Oh, and fans still talk about the black cat that got loose that year in Shea Stadium while the Cubs were on the field, believing that deepened the curse.
Since then I've transferred my bad sports luck to whatever team I root for. In the 1970s I lived in L.A. and switched my allegiance to the Dodgers (keeping a soft spot in my heart for the Cubbies) and while they had some very good seasons and won a couple of pennants, they didn't win a World Series until I moved away.
I have been a Seattle Seahawks fan since 1979. They've been to one Super Bowl but didn't win, and mostly they've been pretty mediocre. I lived in Oregon's mid-valley, rooting for Oregon State, which in the '80s, set a mark for futility rarely matched in the pantheon of athletics.
And it's not just me. It's my whole family. The 1972 Lakers were arguably the best basketball team ever. They won 33 straight games, the longest winning streak of any team in American professional sports. They failed to score 100 points in only one game. They beat the Knicks for the championship in five games. So yeah, they were great. One team that my family rooted for actually was a winner.
But get this. The Lakers played 41 homes games that year. They won 36 of them. My father went to four games that year and they lost every time he was in the stands.
So you can see that the Baurs carry a ton of bad luck when it comes to rooting for teams, and now we're in New Orleans. I've always kind of liked the Saints, even in the '80s when they were so pathetic the fans started wearing bags over their heads and calling them "the Aints."
But things turned around, just when New Orleans needed something good to happen. After Katrina, the city was so torn up that the Saints had to play that year in San Antonio, and there was a lot of fear that they'd never come back. But they did, and they gave the city something special to cheer about. After teasing the faithful for years, they won the NFC championship and played heavily favored Indianapolis in the Super Bowl. And they completed the fairy tale of the plucky outsiders who gave hope to a city by refusing to lose, capturing a most unlikely and memorable title. No team has ever meant more to a city.
Now I live here. And of course, as soon as I get here, they start to suck. They've got a bunch of offensive weapons, some great players, but they can't seem to get in a rhythm and aren't scoring a lot of points. And like I said, the defense can't stop anybody. They could play play St. Mergatroid's Home for Blind Nuns, and the ladies would at least put a couple of field goals on the board.
Now they have to go to Green Bay on Sunday and play a very pissed off Packers team. (I will argue with you all day, if you'd like, about whether the Packers are justified in their pissed-offedness, but not now. As Pete Carroll said, "Game over. We won.") The point is, it's likely to be ugly. And as sports statistician will tell you, 0-4 teams do not come back to make the playoffs, especially not when they're in a division with the Atlanta Falcons, who are playing as well as anybody right now.
So it's going to be really unhappy around these parts Sunday night. I just hope people don't realize it's my fault. I like the Saints, I really do. I'm a fan. And that's their problem.