Football in the South: An Introduction

I grew up in a football family.

Every Sunday, we’d go to church, get fried chicken at Winn-Dixie, run home and get our Saints jerseys on, and run to our friend’s house all before that noon kickoff. I don’t have any brothers, and the closest my sister and I came to participating in sports was soccer in the fourth grade. But football was part of our family; my mom had a bobble head of Lance Moore sitting under the TV after the Saints won the Super Bowl. My mom is notorious for screeching at the TV and jumping out of her seat every time a running back couldn’t complete a touchdown. Halftime meant finally grabbing some baked beans and a hamburger and salad from the Marchese’s small kitchen. It meant impatiently waiting as Pastor Bailey ran over time with his sermon and listening to WWL in the car to see if Garrett Hartley finished the field goal. It meant only wearing certain shirts during the game, getting upset during the NFL draft when our team didn’t get a good player, and knowing that the number 9 on any jersey around here meant Drew and only Drew.

Most importantly, we are a Saints family. Sitting in the nosebleeds during pre-season family. Black and gold wreaths on the front door, each of us owning a stack of New Orleans Saints Champions 2009 family, supporting Jimmy John’s because Drew Brees did kind of family. Fleur-de-lis all over the house, cheering when Sir Saint makes an appearance at a game. Shooting off fireworks in the driveway after that winning field goal against the Vikings when we were found out we were going to the Super Bowl family; sitting quietly while my mother talked about how people wore paper bags on their heads with the word “Aint’s” in big letters before Drew came on board. We are a family that gets in bad moods when our defense can’t perform; we are a family that jokes about the way Sean Payton stands with his lips pursued and say “Juicy Fruit”. We look at players that moved from the Saints and stick out our tongues on our screens and say they should’ve stayed. The biggest day in the fall is not Thanksgiving to us, it is the day we play the Dirty Birds. More recently, my mother has grown to despise the Panthers just as much. We are a family in which the New Orleans Saints is ingrained into our daily lives.

But why?

I attended a high school for the arts, and though I wouldn’t trade that experience to go to a high school of normal proportions, I missed out on a lot of things. I missed out on dances in a school gym, different types of clubs like 4-H or debate club or Builder’s Club. I didn’t get to do AP classes or do model UN, and I wasn’t able to partake in any student council. And most importantly today, I never went to a high school football game.

This doesn’t necessarily sadden me; a lot of people I went to school with would rather listen to Mozart and paint than go to a football game. It just wasn’t ingrained in our DNA as artists. But I realized after I graduated that football in the south, especially in Southeast Louisiana, means a lot to families. Football are some young men’s entire lives; they practice after school, lift weights, memorize plays, and play nearly every Friday night. They do not rest. The families cannot go to functions on certain days of the week; they may have to pick up their sons from practice, go to every game, and travel with the team to away games.

Some teams around here are very good; some are not. The statistics and odds of a team winning can be predicted by local newspapers and the television station based off the way the coaches have conditioned their teams. Some teams surprise us; some teams never do.

But I have found that the idea and immense spirit around high school football around here is a phenomenon. It is fascinating to see lines out to the highway in Mandeville, Louisiana for a team with a losing record and losing streak and people still scream with red and black paint all over their faces and legs. The ticket cash boxes are full of cash, to where it can hold no more. The concession lines take 30 minutes to get a small snack with snowball stands and other booths fundraising for other organizations within the school. The girls wear their hair in pigtails or ponytails, put white, red, and black paint all over their bodies and around their eyes and they match their outfits with the school colors. They scream for the team, and you can hear a collective sigh when they don’t perform. A lineup of coaches stand behind and in front of the benches and the boys sit on the benches drenching themselves in water, huffing and puffing, and before they can catch their breath, coach throws them back in. It is truly an inconceivable amount of hysteria for a sport a limited amount of people can perform.

So why, in southeast Louisiana, do we find ourselves in the throws of this mass hysteria for football?

Quite simply, I do not know. I will be exploring these ideas as well as rooting these teams in their hometowns. I will take a look at the way that football is treated in this portion of the state at high school level, and I will report on the way that these teams are treated throughout the rest of the season.

I hope you will follow along with me as I try to parse the pieces of this enigma in front of me. And I hope you will enjoy reading as much as I enjoy researching.