Love or hate the Who Dats, NFL franchise is a boon for Louisiana

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A calculator might come in handy when counting up the many divisional lines that exist within our state.

North and South.

Catholics and Protestants.

Hunters and non-hunters.

Public schools and private schools.

Democrats and Republicans.

Duck Dynasty fans and whatever the anti-Duck Dynasty crowd is called.
But there’s one common cause we can all rally behind: the New Orleans Saints.

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Okay, maybe that’s not completely accurate. Maybe not every single citizen in Louisiana loves the Saints. We do have our share of transplants from places such as Houston and Atlanta who find it hard to back the black-and-gold.

And, I have to admit, Saints owner Tom Benson makes me wretch each time the team experiences a little success and he attempts to use that success to extract more cash from taxpayers and pad his already well-padded pockets. Really, how much more money does the man need? I’ve only laid eyes on Benson once – as he was walking with his entourage into his private suite in the Superdome – and it didn’t look like he had missed too many meals to me.

At any rate, traveling around the state, I’ve found very few folks who don’t root for the Who Dats. Louisiana Tech fans, Nicholls State fans, fans of other SEC schools such as Ole Miss and Mississippi State, all pull for the Saints.

In my own household, the Saints are certainly a unifying force. My wife was born in Louisiana and graduated from LSU; I was born in Mobile and graduated from the University of Alabama.

We try to be mutually respectful when our teams meet on the gridiron, and after 14 years of marriage we know it’s best to suppress the antagonism. But when the Saints tee it up, we’re all in.

She was lukewarm the last time the Crimson Tide won a national title and I was mostly indifferent the last time the Tigers won a BCS crown. But that night in 2010 when Port Allen product Tracy Porter picked off a Peyton Manning pass and ran it back for a TD to seal a Super Bowl victory over the Colts, it was as if Ed McMahon emerged from the grave and knocked on the door to tell us we just won the $10 million sweepstakes.

We jumped up and down, hollered, screamed and danced a victory jig that looked like a woeful mishmash of the Charleston, the Running Man and the Water Sprinkler. Our private celebration was just a small part of a euphoric eruption that occurred all across the state on the night pigs finally took flight and hell finally froze over after more than 40 years of frustration and futility.

We are both old enough to remember the days when the Saints were so shameful folks showed up in the Superdome wearing paper bags and mockingly dubbed them the ‘Aints.

The ascent from the outhouse to the penthouse took place just when our state needed it most, in the aftermath of the historic storms of 2005. During the 2009 football season, New Orleans was still on the minds of many across the nation as The Big Easy struggled to re-capture its mojo, that special joie de vivre that has always made the place a prime destination for people all over the planet.

In many ways, the team’s historic Super Bowl win marked a symbolic turning point and sent a message to the world that NOLA was indeed in the process of making a triumphant return.

Since that time, the Saints have been mostly competitive, not the hapless laughingstock of the league as in the earlier days of the franchise. Even those Louisianans who root for other NFL teams are smart enough to understand that when the Saints win, we all win.

Serving as the base for an NFL team has an undeniable intangible impact on the state and its image. It gives us clout, raises our profile, promotes our brand and gives us another reason to host a party. When it comes right down to it, the Saints represent the soul of what is the most enchanting, globally recognized metropolis in our state.

Where dollars and cents are concerned, however, the impact is often debated. While it stands to reason that all the tourism, hotel room sales, restaurant patronage and other activity that occurs during football season brings an economic boon, some economists dispute that assumption.

Some insist, for instance, that after taking into account government subsidies, tax breaks, financial incentives and many other concessions made by taxpayers, some NFL franchises are a net drain and taxpayers don’t get a fair rate of return on their investment.

Certainly, economists are often adept at pencil-whipping numbers to draw conclusions that support whatever point they’re trying to make, but there’s another factor often left out of the equation. Even when the Saints don’t post a winning record, just being a member of the elite NFL club and having the opportunity to host the Super Bowl benefits the state. The 13th and most recent time the Super Bowl took place in New Orleans, the game had a $480 million net impact.
Of course, the lights went out…but that’s another story.

I’m just hoping that because the Saints bagged a playoff win last season Benson doesn’t make another power play and threaten to pull the team out of the state if his new demands aren’t met.

The last time Benson trotted out this extortion plot, I recall some commenting that the Saints should just go ahead and leave. Fans can tolerate a team that doesn’t make it to the playoffs every year, but loyalties can be tested when they feel they’re being blackmailed.

We’ll have to see what happens during the coming months as the off-season funk settles in and football fans have to find something else to watch on Sunday afternoons.

How many days is it until next football season?

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