24 July 2013

How Many More Times?

was in the Dome for the 2009 NFC Championship Game against the Vikings.

High in the terrace. Standing for the majority of the game. Intermittently swaying from too much booze. Punch-drunk on the unrelenting, trenchant energy the Superdome often channels. Vocal cords scorched to all hell. And scared shitless during most of it, really.

As I watched the Vikings drive for what appeared to be the winning field goal attempt, increasingly forlorn as doom peeked around the corner, I kept thinking to myself "come on, this can not be the way this thing ends."

This "thing," of course, was the 2009 season.

Long-awaited, unprecedented, fun, fulfilling, elevating, and at times terrifying, 2009 somehow always found a way to live on ... because of Deuce running out of that tunnel, because of 12-men on the field, because of Tracy Porter, because of Garrett Hartley, because of Ambush, and because sometimes, things just fall into place no matter what.

It was all an intoxicating blur, the kind of blur I hope to experience again.

As 2013 beckons, a similar "this can't be the way it ends" sentiment lingers.

I'm sure you all know what I'm talking about.

At some point in the not-so-distant future, we'll be reflecting on the end of the Payton-Brees era in New Orleans and what it all meant. There is a finite number of Super Bowl-winning opportunities remaining for Payton and Brees, and those opportunities may number no more than three. There are no guarantees--ever--and with that uncertainty, along with the inevitability of the eventual end of an era, there's only so much time to see this thing end on a high note.

The paranoia is that we might one day look back on the 2011 (season) divisional playoff loss in San Francisco, and realize that was effectively the end of the run. If you're a devout enough Saints' fan to be reading this blog, then I'd surmise you too would feel the peripheral regret that "effective end" might entail. That's not to say it won't be positive and rewarding in composite--because of course it will be. But it's more to say that part of its true, whole magic might have been abruptly cut short. I don't know about you, but I don't want to one day think about what really could have been.

Do you feel shitty enough yet?

I apologize. That's not what I'm going for here.

The point is that as I look forward to 2013, and attempt to bury the incommodious 2012, I keep telling myself that the whimper of the recent past can't be the way it ends.

This era of Saints' football has been too good, too long overdue, too entertaining, and too defining for it to end with only one Super Bowl title in tow. I realize that might sound bizarrely greedy or absurd or just dumb. But that's how I feel.

Just 19 months ago, the idea of a second Saints' championship seemed closer to inevitability than it did uncertainty. But now? Well, that's all changed.

To me, an air of uncertainty hangs over the beginning of (what I consider) the closing act of the Payton-Brees era. How long that act lasts remains to be seen.

Not too long ago, the circumstances surrounding the state of the Saints were similarly uncertain. Prior to the 2006 season, there was Katrina, a rookie coach, a quarterback recovering from a devastating shoulder injury, and a city infrastructure in disrepair. But there was also Steve Gleason, an unyielding civic hope, a piercing spirit, and a team that believed.

Similarly did uncertainty define the Saints before the 2009 season. We weren't quite sure if the team was of championship caliber, or just a league-average team with an all-world passing attack. We didn't know if the 2006 NFC Championship Game appearance was just an anomaly, or an indicator of things to come. It was all decidedly open-ended then, and on that blank canvas of 2009, the Payton-Brees Saints' defined themselves indelibly.

To be certain, the uncertainty leading into those seasons ultimately produced the two best years in Saints' history.

Of course, there was uncertainty last year too, and that didn't work out so well. But that was without Sean Payton, so for the sake of this exercise, that disqualifies it.

Now with 2013 on the horizon, a similar uncertainty, familiar and almost reassuring, is back yet again. How will the year away impact Sean Payton? Will Rob Ryan remedy a defense riddled with ... umm ... flaws? Will the Saints keep pace in the deep, competitive NFC?

My hope, mostly, is that maybe the Payton-Brees' Saints have a knack for adapting to such uncertain circumstances, that they, somewhere deep down in there, possess some ... thing ... that propels them to achieve amidst those unsure conditions.

It wouldn't be the first time.

And yes, I'm sure I wrote something similar prior to last season, and it certainly might be bullshit, delusional hackery rearing its intrusive head.

But then again, it might be true.

If history is any guide, then perhaps, as fans, stemming from all that uncertainty, we'll find ourselves in a familiar position to that of 2006 and 2009:

Watching the NFC Championship Game, on the precipice, wondering how this thing is gonna end, hoping the magic will live on a little bit longer.

I believe.