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BILL PLASCHKE

A Saints victory would be a Super pick-me-upper

America has rarely needed a sports champion the way it needs New Orleans to beat Indianapolis for the NFL title.

February 07, 2010|Bill Plaschke

From Miami Gardens, Fla. — One helmet is an ancient symbol of rebirth, an eternal emblem of hope.

The other helmet is footwear for a horse.

America needs the New Orleans Saints to win the Super Bowl.

One team's history can be found in a museum featuring paper bags once worn by embarrassed fans and tear-stained tissues used by happily weeping fans.

The other team's history can be found in a Mayflower moving truck.

America needs the New Orleans Saints to win the Super Bowl.

There is no cheering in the press box, but that rule doesn't apply to the sports section, and so allow me a few moments today to lead America in a chant that nobody really understands for a team that has absolutely no chance in a place that has taken them more than four decades to find.

Who Dat Say Dey Gonna Beat Dem Saints?

In Sunday's 44th Super Bowl at Sun Life Stadium, everything says the Indianapolis Colts. Statistics say the Colts. Rosters say the Colts. History says the Colts.

But I'm rooting like crazy for the other guys because America has rarely needed a sports champion the way it needs the Saints.

As our country lurches and heaves through the ankle-deep sand of its economic recovery, it has not helped the national psyche that every time we turn to our national pastimes for assurances that the little guy can still survive, we run smack into Goliath.

The New York Yankees won the World Series. Gee, that was fun. The Lakers won the NBA championship. Loved here, hated everywhere else.

North Carolina won the Final Four. Bear Bryant's old team won the Bowl Championship Series. Jimmie Johnson won his fourth consecutive NASCAR championship. The Connecticut women's basketball team has won 61 consecutive games.

And now Peyton Manning is getting ready to win another Super Bowl?

No thanks. Not now. Please. America needs to believe in the impossible again. America needs another dose of revival.

America needs to believe that 43 years of hard work, even filled with more bad days than good, can still amount for something. America needs to believe that such work on the sporting field can still ease the pain of real life.

The plight of the Saints and their hurricane-ravaged city are as intertwined as dirty rice and beans. If only for a moment Sunday night, America will be a happier place if both are sharing a last laugh.

"Who lost the Super Bowl five years ago, who lost it 10 years ago?" Saints running back Pierre Thomas told reporters last week. "We lose this game, this team will be forgotten forever."

That cannot be allowed to happen, because perhaps no underdog in Super Bowl history has entered the game as so memorably.

The Colts played in the Super Bowl in South Florida only three years ago -- same stadium, same hotel, same practice field, demolished the Chicago Bears.

Not only have the Saints never been here, but a major sports team from New Orleans hasn't competed for a championship since the Buccaneers played the Pittsburgh Pipers in the 1968 American Basketball Assn. finals.

"There's no other organization or city that deserves a championship more than the New Orleans Saints," their quarterback Drew Brees said.

In recent weeks, the Midwestern Mayberry Colts have held perfectly decent pep rallies in the warmth of their covered stadium and local shopping malls.

Last week, thousands of male Saints fans rallied by marching through the chilly French Quarter dressed in drag.

"Mass pandemonium for weeks and weeks," team President Rita Benson LeBlanc said when asked about the atmosphere there if the Saints win.

The Colts owner, Jim Irsay, is a former bodybuilder still living down the reputation of his late father, Bob, who moved the team to Indianapolis from Baltimore in the middle of the night in 1984.

The Saints owner, Tom Benson, 82, is a round and rollicking man who still celebrates some wins by pulling out an umbrella and prancing along the sidelines as if leading a Mardi Gras parade.

"We believe in destiny and faith," the Saints' Robert Meachem said.

Manning, the Colts quarterback, is a perfectly sculpted living legend who gestures and shouts plays from the line of scrimmage as if handing them down from Mt. Olympus.

Brees, the Saints quarterback, is a tiny guy with a noticeable birthmark on his face who gives writhing pre-game pep talks taken from Marine chants at Guantanamo Bay.

Earlier this season, when the then-unbeaten Colts rested their best players during an eventual loss to the New York Jets, their fans booed.

Earlier last week, when Saints kicker Garrett Hartley was sitting in a New Orleans restaurant, he was serenaded by a 70-year-old man playing "When the Saints Go Marching In" on his harmonica.

If you don't live in Greater Indianapolis, how can you not cheer for the Saints?

The only explanation would be that you want to cheer for a winner. And, well, in that case, you would have a good point.

All you need to know about this matchup is that, against football's top defense in the AFC championship game against the New York Jets, Manning threw for 377 yards.

The Saints' defense is ranked 25th.

One thing you need to know is that in the NFC championship game against the Minnesota Vikings, the Saints gained only 257 yards and converted only three third downs.

Only four other NFL defenses give up fewer yards per play than the Colts.

Yeah, it could be that ugly, which makes it even more important to cheer for the baffling beauty of a team that has no chance to win, yet every chance to pull off one of the greatest victories in Super Bowl history.

"We have an opportunity to give them so much hope, lift their spirits and give them something they deserve," Brees said.

He was talking about the people of the New Orleans. He could have been talking about all of us.

Two weeks of hyperbole whittled into two words of meaning.

Go Saints.

bill.plaschke@latimes.com

twitter.com/billplaschke

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