Of sinners and Saints

by Brian Clarey

There’s an old joke they tell in south Louisiana about a couple Cajun fellows named Boudreaux and Thibodaux — actually, there are a lot of Boudreaux and Thibodaux jokes, but this one seems particularly apt today.

So one day Boudreaux and Thibodaux are out fishing on their pirogue, drunk as the US Congress. Boudreaux hooks his line on a gator, and as it thrashes they both fall in the bayou and are devoured by the gator.

Because they have lived less than exemplary lives, they find themselves down in hell in front of ol’ Splitfoot himself.

“Welcome to hell, boys,” the Devil says. “Hot enough for ya?” Thibodaux loosens his collar a bit, but says, “With all respect, Mr. Prince of Darkness, we’re from south Louisiana. Feels a little like springtime in the River Parishes down here to me.”

“I kinda like it, me,” Boudreaux agrees. So the Devil goes over to hell’s thermostat and turns up the heat. Boudreaux and Thibodaux respond by sitting down by a lava pool and allowing the heat to wash over their bodies.

“Not too bad,” Boudreaux says. “Like summertime in Lafayette.”

The Devil turns up the fires of hell just a bit more.

Thibodaux responds by taking off his shirt and asking of there’s any hot sauce up in here.

Not to be so easily thwarted, the Devil has an idea.

Instead of turning the thermostat up, he turns it down. The fires of hell subside a bit; Boudreaux and Thibodaux start to shiver. Realizing he’s on to something, the Devil cranks the AC higher. A layer of frost forms atop the fiery pit and the first few snowflakes begin to drift down.

Boudreaux can’t stand it — he’s got icicles forming on his nose and the water in his shrimp boots freezes to his feet. But Thibodaux starts dancing around, whooping and hollering.

“What’s wrong with you?” Boudreaux asks his friend.

“Aren’t you freezing?” “I guess I am,” Thibodaux says. “But if it’s snowing down here, it looks to me like the Saints just won the Super Bowl!” Ha ha. Very funny. But let me tell you something: After taking out Brett Favre — a Cajun raised in Kiln, Miss. who knows something about summer swelter — and his Minnesota Vikings in spectacular and dramatic fashion on Sunday, nobody’s laughing at the New Orleans Saints now.

And I, along with a million other red beans and rice eaters, will be sleepwalking through the couple weeks before the big game in an amazed stupor. The Saints have never been to the big dance in their 42-year history, and its fans have famously suffered for their loyalty and love.

Granted, I came into it on a high note. When I moved to New Orleans in 1988 for college, the Saints were coming off their best season to date. Under the leadership of quarterback Bobby Hebert, the Cajun Cannon from Cutoff, La., the Saints made their first playoff appearance in 1987 — this after posting their very first winning season with a record of 12-3 in the strike-shortened season.

These were the years when Rickey Jackson and Pat Swilling anchored the Dome Patrol defense and fans started taking the paper bags off their heads. In 1991 they began the season 7-0 and won their division, then the NFC West, for the first time in the team’s history with a record of 11-5, though in typical Saints fashion they got knocked off in the wild card game against the Atlanta Falcons.

Things got bad again around 1994. In 1996 they went 3-13, and I was there at every home game cheering on my boys in their futile efforts. The tickets weren’t so hard to come by back then, as you might imagine — sometimes I found them tucked under the wipers on car windshields outside the Superdome — and win or lose, the Dome always saw a great party in the Central Business District that would spill over to the French Quarter sometimes before the game even ended.

But that’s all in the past. The Saints will take on the Indianapolis Colts on Feb. 7 in Miami while Mardi Gras parades start to roll in New Orleans. And I am pretty sure the Saints will win.

Because I know something that maybe the rest of you don’t: Peyton Manning, the Colts quarterback and NFL MVP for 2009, cannot beat the Saints. Not because he doesn’t have the talent — he does — but because he loves the Saints. His father Archie famously struggled as the best quarterback on the worst team in the NFL from 1971 to ’82. Archie became the voice of the Saints on WWL radio broadcasts, and Peyton grew up on the sidelines at the Dome before quarterbacking Newman High School in Uptown New Orleans to its best seasons ever, at least until his brother Eli came along.

I’m not saying he’s going to throw the game — he’s a class act and would never do that, I don’t think. I’m saying that his subconscious mind won’t allow him to do it. Peyton can’t beat the Saints because he’s been waiting his whole life to see them win a Super Bowl, just like everybody else who was born and raised in New Orleans.

And he’s probably sick of hearing that Boudreaux and Thibodaux joke, too.