There has always been an argument about who “America’s Team” is in the NFL. That one team that captures the hearts and minds of a nation, a team that fans either love, hate to love, or love to hate but that always stands at the forefront, a stalwart of the league. “America’s Team” is a champion, a team that people can relate to, a team that champions the same sort of work ethic that all football fans and, indeed, most Americans also a champion.
For a long time, the Dallas Cowboys claimed the moniker for themselves. The shout “how ‘bout them Cowboys?” was a common yell from fans all over the country.
The San Francisco 49ers laid their own claim to the title in a 13 year stretch between 1981 and 1994 when the team played in and won five Super Bowls, knocking the Cowboys from the ranks of the elite, though the Cowboys would have some mid-90’s success of their own and reclaim the moniker with some success and the Niners and Cowboys developed a significant rivalry.
The New England Patriots could lay a claim of their own on the title starting around the turn of this century, with the likeable, mild-mannered, successful and smart quarterback Tom Brady at the helm, a quarterback who overcame being benched several times in college to rise to the ranks of the pros, a three-time Super Bowl champion who’s led his Patriots teams to five Super Bowl appearances in all.
In light of the fact the Patriots have now lost their last two Super Bowl games in a row that they have appeared in, combined with the recent issues with the team due to the arrest of tight end Aaron Hernandez on a murder charge and several gun charges which caused the team to part ways with Hernandez amongst questions about his character and why the team would have taken a draft pick a few years ago on a young man who was clearly talented but also clearly troubled, the Patriots now appear to be losing their claim to the title.
Fans don’t want to root for a team that has been often accused of cheating, as the Patriots were accused of doing (and appeared guilty of) when it was revealed that the Patriots were stealing signals from other teams in the SpyGate scandal. Between the tarnish of SpyGate and the bad momentum created by the Hernandez situation, it would be far-fetched to give the Patriots “America’s Team” status.
Fortunately, one team remains prominent on the national scene as America’s team. That team is the New Orleans Saints!
Sure, the Saints went through the “bounty” scandal last year. But unlike SpyGate where actually stealing of signs occurred, the system, a motivator for players to deliver hard hits that were potentially injurious to opposing players, seems to have passed over the Saints with a minimal impact.
Coach Sean Payton is regarded as a great football mind, and his presence was noticeable missed last season in New Orleans. A full training camp with a full compliment of players and coaches, with a high-octane offense led by pass-happy quarterback Drew Brees who may run the spread offense with a precision not quite matched by any other quarterback in the game, the Saints are still looking for a follow up on their Super Bowl XLIV three years ago.
Fans throughout the league seem to respect the Saints. Drew Brees is a likeable player, undersized but incredibly talented, the sort of hard-working underdog player you want to root for. And of course, the team’s tribulations as they played without a true home in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, playing home games in San Antonio and Baton Rouge, and even playing their scheduled home opener at Giants Stadium against the New York Giants in the weeks after the hurricane, with Giants fans giving the Saints just as warm a welcome round of cheering as they did their home team which was playing perhaps the most unusual road game in the history of the league.
Despite calls for the team to relocate to San Antonio, Los Angeles or even Toronto, the Saints stayed put in New Orleans and rebuilt themselves along with the community. The Super Dome, severely damaged by the hurricane, was successfully renovated and repaired and as the city rose from the ruins, so did the Saints franchise, all the way to that first Super Bowl win following the 2009 season.
Super Bowl XLIV itself was completely characteristic of the team. The AFC Champion Indianapolis Colts, led by quarterback Peyton Manning, were heavily favored to win the Super Bowl. However, the hard-work by the Saints would keep Manning confused all game as Brees completed 32 of 39 passes for 288 yards to go with two touchdowns and the Saints kept Manning in check throughout the afternoon as the team rallied from a 10-6 halftime deficit, starting with an onside kick recovery to start the second half, to win the game going away by a score of 31-17.
The Saints have sought to return to the promised land of the Super Bowl ever since that win. Even if the Super Bowl XLIV title turns out to be their only one, the New Orleans Saints have an incredibly inspiring story. An exciting team with a high-powered offense and a coach that meshes well with his players, it could be said that New Orleans have risen from the ruins of Hurricane Katrina not only to put New Orleans on the football map, but to become the latest edition of America’s Team as well.