Saints fans get close, players give back at charity game

Other than coming home from the hospital and a visit to the doctor, 5-week-old Jake Froeba hadn’t been out of the house in his young life.

So when Brandy Froeba of Kenner considered what her infant son’s first public appearance should be, she hit on something Saints-related because “I’ve been a fan since I was his age.”

So Brandy, Jake, older brother Chase and Chase’s friend Sebastian Burgess were in attendance as part of a crowd that packed the Rummel High School gym at Lance Moore’s Black and Gold Hoops Challenge on Wednesday night.

“It’s nice to see the Saints giving back like this — and up close, too,” Brandy said of the event, which featured Saints players taking on a group of first responders and military personnel. “I just wish I’d gotten Jake something from the Saints to wear.”

Jake, who slept through much of the action, was in an LSU onesie. Chase also was wearing LSU gear, but he’s the kind of huge Saints fan he expects his brother to be.

“I love the Saints,” Chase said.

And who’s your favorite player?

“That guy over there,” he said, pointing to the Saints bench. “I love them all.”

Giving back, finding hope

Public events like Wednesday’s are a reminder of the hold the Saints have on the community. The chance to see their heroes in the flesh but out of uniform is one fans relish. The players enjoy the experience as well.

“I’m usually a little guarded because I don’t want to get hurt,” punter Thomas Morstead said. “But my competitive nature kicks in. I’ve never done this before, but I’ll definitely be doing this again. The fans are great.”

After the game, most of the players stuck around to sign autographs and pose for pictures. Morstead was the last one off the floor.

Last year was a disappointment for the team — the pay-for-performance scandal, a 7-9 record and a historically bad defense. But hope always springs eternal, especially in the spring.

“Everybody was against us last year,” said Bobby Burgess, Sebastian’s father. “It would have been a lot of better if we’d had our coach. But Sean Payton’s coming back, we’ve got (new defensive coordinator) Rob Ryan and everybody’s healthy. Everybody’s excited.”

Up close and personal

Some of the fans came with the idea of getting as close to a particular favorite as possible. Goreanne Lee of Kenner managed to participate in the halftime “Harlem Shake” dance alongside defensive end Cam Jordan.

“I love Cam,” she said. “I mean, I’m in love with Cam. I follow him on Twitter and Instagram. I love this man. I was rubbing on his muscles and everything.”

Robin Pittman of New Orleans is an uber-Lance Moore fan, as her No. 16 T-shirt with “Give Me Moore” emblazoned on the back showed.

“Well, first of all, he’s cute,” said Pittman, who was in attendance with her husband and son, lest anyone get the wrong impression. “And I love the way he always gives us a good dance after he scores. You never worry when they throw the ball to Lance. He’s going to lead the comeback.”

There are fans, and then there are the Super Fans — costumed denizens of Superdome Sunday afternoons such as The King (Elvis), The Coach (Payton), a clown and Soul Saint, an Afro-ed throwback to the ’70s.

They served as unofficial cheerleaders Wednesday. They also march in parades and make other public appearances under the semi-official auspices of the team.

“We’re here to get the fans psyched up, but it doesn’t look like they need it too much,” said Ernest Knox, Soul Saint’s civilian handle. “And the players don’t look like they need much help, either.”

The action wasn’t exactly scintillating, but Chris Oglesby, representing the Navy, brought the crowd to its feet just before the buzzer with a forceful block of a layup attempt by Saints receiver Joe Morgan — although a foul was called on the play.

“Joe Morgan’s a super athlete,” said Oglesby, who’s stationed in Belle Chasse. “And I thought I’d blocked him clean, so that’s pretty good because I’ve got a few years on him. But if they called it a foul, it’s a foul. Believe me, this is something I’ll be telling my kids about.”

The Saints continued their offseason workouts Thursday morning at 7:30, but Morgan said he and the other participants weren’t too worried about being sore.

“This is easy compared to what Sean’s putting us through,” he said. “His offseason was a lot longer than ours, so he’s making up for lost time.”

‘Part of the team’

It’s not easy for Annette Junker of Metairie to get anywhere these days.

Stricken by a rare lung disease, she not only has to have an oxygen tank with her everywhere she goes, she’s also confined to a wheelchair.

But Junker was there with her son, Justin, a Rummel student, decked out in a Saints jersey along with a mask she brought to wear during the “Harlem Shake,” although she wore it the entire night.

“I love the Saints, and I love any chance to see them like this,” she said. “It makes me feel like I’m part of the team, too. I’m coming back for as long as I can.”