Five weeks ago, I asked for your help finding a team of my own. After careful consideration, taking into account your tweets, Facebook messages and good old fashioned conversations, for the first time since I was eight years old, I have a team to call my own.
But first, a look at a couple of runners up. Denver Broncos fans were quick out of the gate and passionately pushed their team. Fueled by a quarterback controversy that seems to have settled itself, the Broncos fans were perhaps the most active ones I saw on social media these few weeks. Alas, last night was tough for the Broncs, losing to a 63-yard field goal. I wish the Broncs the best this season.
The team that had the most votes was easily the Green Bay Packers. The defending Super Bowl champs have a passionate following, and the Cheeseheads lobbied hard for the boys in green. One of the questions I asked was “Why do you love your team?” The Packers fans had some of the best answers: because it is truly a hometown team; residents of Green Bay are the shareholders; generations of families have braved tundra-like conditions, often shirtless, to show their love in the late season and the playoffs. Packers fans have my respect, and unless they are playing my team, I’ll be pulling for them on Sundays.
Throughout my search, I noticed two themes about why we love the teams we do. First, it usually starts and ends with family. I turned my back on the Cowboys because my father did all those years ago, and neither of us have looked back since. Second, loving a team allows us to be part of a greater narrative. We’re connected with a story that started before we were born and will endure, hopefully, after we are gone. When my father loved the Cowboys, it was because of Tom Landry, a champion, but more importantly, a good and decent man. And it hit me–the answer has been under my nose for a long time.
(MORE: How to Make Football Safer)
In the 1971 draft, the New Orleans Saints picked Archie Manning, a Heisman finalist and hero from neighboring Mississippi. He held nearly every Ole Miss record and was more recognizable than the governor. Manning was the perfect quarterback to turn around the flailing ‘Aints and lead them to glory. But over the next decade, the fairy tale died. The Saints only reached .500 once; fans often wore paper bags over their heads at games.
Yet, Archie Manning played through injuries and the insanity of the organization, having some of his best years late in his career. In 1979, he was the NFC MVP and a Pro Bowl selection when the Saints went 7-9. He made the Pro Bowl again the next year when they went an even 8-8. “Somehow the dream has never died,” Sports Illustrated‘s Paul Zimmerman wrote in 1981, “and that is surely the most incredible part of the story of Archie Manning.”
The Manning legacy would, of course, move to other teams in the form of Peyton and Eli, and the Saints went through many more years of turmoil. But a prediction Archie Manning made in 1981 came true. “Can you imagine what our place, the Superdome, would be like if we were ever a winner?” he asked. “They’d blow the lid right off the place. Nothing could hold a candle to it.” And when New Orleans needed it, they did just that. Five years after Hurricane Katrina devastated the city, the 2009 Saints marched through the playoffs and won the Super Bowl, defeating Peyton Manning’s Colts.
So for me, the Saints are the total package. Sure, fans didn’t show much love to the ailing ‘Aints in the ’70s, but the guys in the stands with bags on their heads were at the games, and they never stopped coming. Though he only led them to one winning season, Archie Manning personified what is good about sports. And most importantly, my sister, my biggest fan and most vocal critic, is a die-hard Saints fan. She went to college in New Orleans and married a guy from Metairie. Every Sunday, she dons her Deuce McAllister No. 26 jersey, even though he has long since retired. Thanks to you, who helped me realize what we love about football, now I can wear Archie Manning’s No. 8 Saints jersey and join her.