Sports Columns

September 3, 2013

Devin Golden: The truth about the Falcons-Saints rivalry

The world is full of myths, but karma isn’t one of them. Doing good deeds pays one back in a positive way. Doing bad deeds pays one back in a negative way. But there are many other myths, including some about my favorite NFL team.

No, you probably won’t like what you’re about to read. All the good will I may have built in my 18 months here could be thrown out the window with just a simple sentence. I understand that northwest Georgia is less than a two-hour drive from Atlanta and that Falcons fandom resides on every corner in Dalton.

But I wear black-and-gold fleurs-de-lis, cheer for Drew Brees and collect Mardi Gras beads.

Yes, I am a Saints fan.

However, fear not. I believe in karma, and I believe in correcting the incorrect views of others. In particular, there are a few myths I’d like to correct about the New Orleans Saints’ fan base. No, I don’t expect you to suddenly become OK with my allegiance. In fact, I’d rather you not. That makes the rivalry more fun.

But myths are myths, and they should be called out. Karma would appreciate it. So let’s debunk a few myths about Saints fans:

• Not all of them shout “Who dat?” after each mention of the team, football, red beans and rice or crawfish boils. Just the annoying ones.

• Not all of them say things like “ain’t” and have trouble forming even incoherent, grammatically incorrect statements. Just the intoxicated ones.

• Not all of them spend their weekends heavily intoxicated and sleeping on Bourbon Street. Just the ones who can’t form grammatically correct statements.

• And most importantly, not all of them despise the Atlanta Falcons. Just the real ones.

Last week, I asked my closest friend, who still lives in New Orleans, how much Saints fans hate the Falcons.

“Endlessly,” he replied.

Remember, “NOLA” doesn’t just stand for “New Orleans, La.” It also means, “No one likes Atlanta,” according to T-shirts being sold in advance of the Falcons’ trip to New Orleans for Sunday’s season-opening NFC South matchup.

I’m friends with enough Falcons fans to know the disdain is mutual.

I couldn’t tell you when or why the rivalry started. Maybe it’s because, until a few years ago, both teams had pretty sad histories and could be awful together. Maybe it’s because the Falcons beat the Saints 27-20 in the playoffs for the 1991 season. Maybe it’s because the Falcons stole kicker Morten Anderson and quarterback Bobby Hebert from the Saints. Maybe it’s because the two teams stayed in the same division — and the San Francisco 49ers didn’t — following the NFL’s realignment after the 2001 season.

Regardless, the rivalry exists between two teams at their peaks in terms of franchise success. And the hate is both real and relevant.

New Orleans players posed for photos on the Falcons’ logo after winning a game at the Georgia Dome in 2011. A restaurant employee at the Atlanta airport threw eggs at the Saints’ team bus before last year’s Monday Night Football game. The Falcons stopped Drew Brees’ streak of throwing at least one touchdown in each game in that same game, a 23-13 victory for Atlanta. The teams have traded control of the NFC South the past four years.

So when the Saints host the Falcons on Sunday, it would have meant a lot no matter what.

But then those Atlanta radio hosts decided to make a joke at the expense of Steve Gleason, a former Saints player.

In June, WQXI 790-The Zone’s Mayhem in the AM had a segment in which hosts Steak Shapiro and Chris Dimino “interviewed” co-host Nick Cellini, who imitated Gleason using a robotic-sounding voice. For those who don’t know, Gleason is battling amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, and uses a voice synthesizer to speak. ESPN Radio, Deadspin and other national outlets picked up the story.

I listened to the segment again Monday. Without going too far into the details, it was awful and tasteless, just as much as it was when it first aired.

Yes, the station did the right thing and fired the three. And no, neither the Falcons organization or the team’s entire fan base is to blame for three guys who made a horribly unsympathetic joke and immature decision.

But Gleason is a New Orleans hero, and 790 The Zone is the Falcons’ flagship station. So, yeah, Sunday means a lot.

On Sept. 25, 2006, the Saints played their first game in the Superdome since Hurricane Katrina. The team was 2-0 and hosting those despicable Falcons on Monday Night Football. After the Falcons’ first possession, Gleason blocked the punt and the Saints recovered for a touchdown.

It is the greatest moment in Saints history, evident by the statue of the play outside the Superdome. Greater than Garrett Hartley’s field goal to win the 2010 NFC Championship game. Greater than Tracy Porter’s interception to clinch Super Bowl XLIV. That Gleason’s punt block is No. 1 isn’t a myth; most Saints fans will say the same.

And there’s no myth to this: All Saints fans are stubbornly prideful and defensive of our own.

And we, along with karma, remember.

Devin Golden is a sports writer for The Daily Citizen. You can write to him at devingolden@daltoncitizen.com.

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