In this part of the world, the arrival of late summer and early autumn engenders a great deal of optimistic forward looking type thinking among the local citizenry. Much of this phenomenon is meteorological in origin. By this point in the year, New Orleanians have been sweating and suffering and shelling out for Clinton Syndrome inducing energy bills for a good four or five months. Summer in New Orleans is brutal and although these conditions will not actually improve for another two months (or sometimes longer) there is something about that "ber" on the end of the current month that breaks the sultry static of the season and reminds us that things do change, sometimes even for the better.
This annual infusion of optimism is a palpable event in New Orleans and its effects are felt in numerous varied spheres of daily experience generating all sorts of ridiculous expectations for future events. Case in point: Look at all the nutty folks who actually expect the New Orleans Saints to win more than they lose this year. The Times-Picayune's Jeff Duncan has them 10-6. Prominent Louisiana blogger, Ricky Prado predicts an astonishing 11-5. (another of his commenters has an NFC championship appearance.) An overwhelming number of callers to the Buddy D show, posters to those stupid forums and message boards, and random assholes I run into on the street have all gone loopy with autumn optimism. Obviously some antidote to this fall fever is required. Who then could be better to provide it than a guy still suffering the summery effects of a semi-functional air conditioner.
Let me preface these remarks by stating that this particular version of the New Orleans Saints (since 2000) is, for me, perhaps the most likeable group the franchise has ever produced. And this is coming from someone who as a teenager hung on every moment of the glorious '87-'93 era. Glory is, of course, relative since those teams did not win a single one of their four playoff appearances. But these were the first winning teams in Saints history which, improbably, featured a starting quarterback, a leading rusher, and a leading receiver who were all Louisiana products. Now that is hard to compete with. And yet, there were things about those teams which I absolutely hated. Coach Jim Mora and General Manager Jim Finks were (and in many ways still are) folk heroes of a sort. I couldn't stand either one of them. They carried themselves and treated their players and the local press with that brand of arrogance and condescension which usually derives directly from a need to hide an underlying incompetence. (Sound familiar, Mr. President?) Mora is the NFL's all time underachiever as a coach. It isn't hard to make a case that no coach has accomplished less with more talent than he. And Finks unforgivably ruined the Saints' best chance to win a championship, when he forced Bobby Hebert to sit out the 1990 season in a contract dispute and then added insult to injury by trading for Steve Walsh.
Could Hebert have brought New Orleans a Superbowl in 1990? The world will never know.
But we're not here to think about what could have been. The current group of Saints has much to recommend it (including an actual playoff victory) and includes no one who approaches the supreme jerkdom of Mora or Finks. Unfortunately they are also missing something else those earlier teams had in abundance; the ability to play defense. Not to be too flip here but, in football, that is kind of important. This year, the Saints plan to start a rookie at middle linebacker and a 34 year old man at one corner. These are not good signs. The defensive line should be serviceable. It will have to be better than that to hide the horrors lining up behind it. The offense should score points and could be among the best in the league if literacy advocate Aaron Brooks finally comes into his own. On the other hand, things can go downhill in a hurry if Deuce McAllister gets hurt.
Brooks needs to read the defense if he wants to pass the test this season. Is 2004 a make or break year?
In order to make this season a success in New Orleans, all of the following things need to happen: 1) Deuce needs to stay healthy. 2) The defense must overachieve spectacularly 3) Brooks, who is adequate, still needs to make a giant leap forward to realize his potential. 4) The slumlord needs to fix my a/c. One of these four things may happen. Certainly, all four will not. The way I see it, this adds up to an underwhelming 6 or 7 win season for the home team.
More predictions: Take heart, Saints fans. I suck suck suck at this. Nothing I forsee ever materializes in reality. For example, my primary fantasy team, The Portly Gentlemen, is already suffering due to my decision to start Marcus Pollard over Randy McMichael this weekend. So with that in mind, I've got the Eagles and Titans in the Superbowl this year. And, of course, the Saints will get off on the wrong foot against the Seahawks 24-14.
Note: Due to circumstances beyond my control, I will not be in attendance at Sunday's Saints/Seahawks contest.