TEXT OF COMMENTARY
Kai Ryssdal: In New Orleans today, there’s a parade the city’s been waiting almost 50 years for. Organizers say they’ll use Mardi Gras floats to carry Saints players and their Super Bowl trophy around town. The team has come a long way from the days when fans used to put paper bags over their heads and call them the ‘Aints. Commentator Jon Wertheim says the city’s come a long way too and from way farther down.
Jon Wertheim: As a native of Indiana, I suppose I had a rooting interest in last Sunday’s Super Bowl. But even after the Colts lost to the Saints, I didn’t feel much sting. If any community could use some good mojo, I figured, it was New Orleans.
The Saints all but hijacked the NFL playoffs. While some of that was surely owed to their excellent quarterback, fearless coach, and Cajun expressions, it was mostly a function of provenance. How do you not root for a team hailing from a beleaguered city, ravaged by natural disaster?
In fact, the Las Vegas line was about the only place where the Colts were favored.
CBS certainly didn’t sidestep what media critics called “the Katrina angle.” The pregame narrative was focused largely on the Saints and what their win “would mean for the city.” A few hours before kickoff, the network televised Wynton Marsalis performing a moving musical tribute to the “Crescent City.” It culminated when Katie Couric interviewed Saints’ quarterback Drew Brees and asked: “Did you help save New Orleans, or did New Orleans help save you?”
No doubt the network executives were onto something. Despite featuring teams from two of the smallest NFL markets, Super Bowl XLIV was the most-watched program in television history, drawing an average of 106.5 million viewers. For perspective: The previous record was held by the 1983 series finale of “M*A*S*H.” Clearly, to many, this game was about much more than football.
It’s easy, of course, to be cynical and wonder how deeply a successful football team helps the community in the Ninth Ward. Or how far Super Bowl glory goes in attracting industry and investment to a city that continues to lose population — where estimates for rebuilding are still in the billions. But there was something poignant about the nationwide support of the Saints. Collectively, it was a way of saying: We’re with you.
The Dallas Cowboys have long laid claim to being “America’s Team.” But that distinction is now being challenged by the franchise one state over. And one senses this is more than a fleeting crush.
Thanks to the “Katrina angle,” the Saints are likely to be the NFL’s darlings next season as well. The only threat, if the Detroit Lions get better in a hurry.
RYSSDAL: Jon Wertheim is a senior writer at “Sports Illustrated.”
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