Hoosiers is the quintessential sports movie and serves as a blueprint for the genre. A group of scrappy overachievers rally behind a curmudgeonly coach, overcoming incredible odds to win it all. Sports movies may add other artificial flavors and fillers into the recipe: ill-conceived love interests, ill-received Ben Stiller characters, or freakish hybrids of Adam Sandler characters that result in illness. But no matter what plot points are used to pad the second act, the climax almost always results in the undermanned and undersized squad triumphing over a team that has more talent, more size, and, in the case of Hickory High's foes, a lot more melanin. We the audience want that underdog to win every time.
Nobody ever writes a feel-good story about the other denizens of the Hoosierverse: the fans of the favorite, the people rooting for those underdogs to get squashed like grapes so that the parroting sports reporters can shove their feel-good story where miracles on ice don’t shine. As far as the audience is concerned, those assholes can fuck off and die.
Well, this weekend, I unfortunately will be one of those assholes fucking off and/or dying.
On Sunday, the Chicago Bears square off against the New Orleans Saints, also known as America’s/God’s/Vishnu’s/Branjolina’s Team. The airwaves are aflutter about how amazing it will be for the Saints—a franchise second only to the Chicago/St. Louis/Arizona/TBD Cardinals for ineptitude—to win the Super Bowl the season after Hurricane Katrina. That it would be an incredible ending for the 2006 season. That, as former Saints QB Bobby Hebert said on Mike and Mike in the Morning today, it would be the greatest ending in the history of sports. In your face, USA Hockey!!!
Now, I wish the city of New Orleans nothing but the best. My dear friends PJKM and her trusty husband/ghostwriter TMiddy went through the hell of Katrina. I want NOLA to get everything it needs to be restored to its former publicly intoxicated glory.
Against any other team, on any other day, I’d be right there rooting for the Hickory Saints. I am truly glad the Saints have had a great season. They and their fans deserve it. I lived in New Orleans in 1980 when the ‘Aints won only one game and the fans started the illustrious tradition of wearing bags over their heads to games. The 2006 season would have meant a ton to the city before Hurricane Katrina. Now, the meaning is off the charts. As Hebert asked, how can you not get swept up by this story?
Here’s how: If you’re a fan of the other side. I’ve been a Bears fan since I was wearing my Walter Payton pajamas, complete with footies. I’ve read George “Papa Bear” Halas’ autobiography twice, owned a copy of “The Super Bowl Shuffle,” played it willingly, and have waited 21 years for the opportunity to play it again without the cover of irony. If a giant comet was heading toward Earth and the only way humanity could be saved would be for the Bears to lose Sunday, I would think, “Hey, at least we’ll go out winners.”
In short, I don’t want the Saints fans getting their Muffuletta-stained hands on the Lombardi trophy. I have compassion, I have kindness, and I have charity. But this is football.
Still, I was hoping it wouldn’t come to this. I thought the Philadelphia Eagles would do the dirty work for me. The Eagle nation were the perfect playoff hitmen. After all, there’s a reason they used to have a court below Philly’s Veteran’s Stadium. We’re talking about fans that cheered when Michael Irvin suffered a career-ending spinal injury at the Vet. Fans that booed Santa Claus. You don’t think they’d be at the state finals in Indianapolis, making fun of Dennis Hopper’s drinking problem while yelling, “Hickory dickory dock, Hoosiers can suck my....”
The Eagles almost pulled it off, but in the end, they couldn’t beat this team of destiny, in part because the ol’ Philly mojo apparently rubbed off on Saints fans—specifically their T-shirts:
So be it. Saints coach Sean Payton gets to play Gene Hackman, QB Drew Brees gets to play Jimmy Chitwood, and I get to play the role of Cobag Bears Fan #1. It’s not a role I’m relishing, but it’s one I was born to play. And let's face it, playing the bad guy is often more fun than playing the hero. I may even grow a bad mustache and throw on some blue and orange zubaz pants to get into character:
There is one silver lining to having an entire nation root against you: it has been a learning experience. Now I understand what it feels like to be a Yankee fan.