With a week until my article was due, I was struggling for content. Lord, I prayed, give me the words You would have me speak.
Unfortunately, God came up short, so all I have is this anecdote for you about me trying to convince my children to love the New Orleans Saints. I swear, this article has no deeper meanings to unpack and certainly no friendly reminders about fostering our children’s relationship with God.
It was the first Sunday of football season, and for the first time in my life, I was not in New Orleans. We had moved to the Milwaukee area a few months prior. My husband, a native Wisconsinite, and I had invited his family over to watch the Packers game. Despite the green and gold surrounding me, I still sported my very worn black and gold Drew Brees jersey.
My oldest child happily wore her favorite Saints shirt. My five-year-old would never be convinced to wear anything that wasn’t a tutu dress, so I didn’t even bother. But trouble began when I plopped a Saints shirt over my almost-three year old’s head when all he wanted was his favorite fish tee.
“Look!” I clapped. “It’s your Saints shirt! WHO DAT!”
He only screamed and writhed on the floor. Because I want to ensure my children feel safe and supported, I ignored the screaming from the living room and instead went into the kitchen to start prepping for the game.
Eventually, I meandered over to find he had managed to get one arm out of the shirt, which was now tight around his little belly. With a sigh, I relented, gave him his fish t-shirt, and turned to my oldest. “It’s just you and me, kid.”
Twenty minutes later, when her new Wisconsin friend came over, she happily informed me that she was now a Packers fan.
It’s tough being out there on your own.
As I made guacamole, I reflected on my Saints fandom. How and why is being a lover of the Saints so important to me? And why do I care whether or not my children love them, too?
As a child, watching the Saints on Sundays was inevitable. I can still remember playing with toys, the radio commentary of Jim Henderson in the background, and hearing my parents lament the (many) frustrations of being a Saints fan. My mom would tell stories about her dad taking her and her siblings to games and wearing paper bags on their heads (If you know, you know), but still being faithful followers nonetheless. Loving the Saints was a part of my parents’ family culture, and in my childhood, the ritual watching of every painful game was understood to be something we just did.
With the arrival of my adolescence (and more importantly perhaps, Drew Brees), my interest became more invested. Not only was I experiencing the joys and thrills of football for myself, but I began to choose more and more to actually learn about the team and watch the games. I remember Steve Gleason’s blocked punt against the Falcons after Hurricane Katrina, a spark of joy in an otherwise-traumatic part of my life. And following every nail biting game during that first and only Super Bowl season carved out a particular place in my heart. New Orleans comes alive on Sundays, and its unique brand of culture and fun—anyone who has visited knows what I mean—is rife in every corner of the city.
To put it simply, I perhaps would have never thought to be interested in the Saints except for early exposure from my parents, but the decision to love them was born of my own investment and knowledge in the team. Making memories with my family, having Saints football be a part of my family culture, and experiencing not just victories but the joy of loving something (and, oddly, being loved by it back) for myself—Those moments were the ones that made me a Saints fan.
How can I convey that to my kids? Unless I find a group of New Orleans transplants, no one in Wisconsin can really understand why I love the Saints so much. If I want my kids to love the Saints as much as I do, to understand that so much of who I am will always remain in that amazing city, pinning them down while I wrestle them into a Saints jersey isn’t going to be the way.
It’s not because my parents made me wear Saints shirts since before I could walk. It’s not because games were on in the background while I colored at the table. It’s because I saw all of the ways fandom made me feel a part of something bigger, that I chose to see what loving the Saints can mean for my life; essentially, I had to experience a relationship with the Saints firsthand, then grow to love them on my own.
Wisconsin is not the most Saints-friendly place in the world, and if I want my kids to fall in love with New Orleans, the Saints, snoballs, saying “y’all,” and so many of the things I love the most and make me me, then I have love those things first and let the joy and peace I experience when I talk about New Orleans be the first ways they remember it.
So again, I apologize that this article isn’t deep. It most definitely is not a metaphor about our children growing to love God—about giving our kids joyful exposure to Christ and His Church, teaching them and encouraging them to learn more on their own, and allowing God’s love to do the rest.
All I can say is that my kids might always live in Wisconsin in reality, but I also want them to always know the Big Easy—and the amazing team who plays there—is still part of their home.