Superstitious Saints fans get their charms, compulsions in play
A New Orleans Saints victory requires inspired play calling from the coaches, all the skill and determination the players can muster and, if you ask April Hirsch, the discipline to hold her breath from the moment quarterback Drew Brees touches the football until it leaves his hand.
People may be cheering loudly around her Chalmette home as the play unfolds, but Hirsch knows her most important contribution to the cause is steadfast fidelity to this quiet ritual, which also includes methodically rubbing the fleur de lis patch on the left arm of the No. 9 Brees jersey she wears each game day.
“It’s weird, I know it’s weird, but it’s what I do,” she said.
Nothing about this multi-faceted mojo should sound weird to die-hard Saints fans, however. In a game of inches, where a blizzard of variables can determine victory or defeat and where so much emotion hangs in the balance, the Saints faithful have drafted their own personal playbooks mixing the superstitions, traditions and compulsions they’re convinced can make a difference.
That’s the reason William Johnson and his friends always blast a full gospel choir recording of “When the Saints Go Marching In” while setting up their tailgating site on North Rampart Street. And that’s why Jason Otis and Rocky Curl must complete a series of football passes to each other under the Claiborne Avenue overpass with no dropped balls before they can enter the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
“If we drop one, we know that’s a drop the Saints might make in the game,” Otis explained. “We make it harder because we’re holding beers so you have to catch it one-handed. But it should be hard. This is serious.”
Some rituals are highly individual. In Mid-City, for instance, Jose Zorrilla wears precisely the same attire each game day, from Saints-logo shirt to Saints-themed boxer shorts, with no exceptions allowed.
And Uptown, Gionne Celebi found that by clutching a single stray hair she found from her dearly departed dog Scout, the ball seemed to bounce the Saints’ way more often.
Other endeavors are more tribal, like the scene around the fire pit during Saints parties at Michelle Ingram’s home in the Freret neighborhood.
Ingram lights the fire exactly at the moment of the game’s opening kickoff, and children at the party are invited to toss in drawings they’ve made of the opposing team’s mascot and watch them burn in effigy.
Throughout the game, Ingram tends the fire like the engineer of a steam locomotive, cutting wood with a chop saw to feed the flames and, she asserts, to stoke on-field performance.
“Whenever I start my chop saw, Drew Brees throws better, the defense holds the line better and coach Payton’s lips purse a little tighter,” Ingram said. “The higher the fire, the better we do.”
Many new rituals were born during the Saints’ post-Hurricane Katrina season in 2006, a time of symbolic rebirth all over the city. In that year, Gentilly resident Ross Louis and a few friends started a bicycle pub crawl that has since evolved into an annual rite just before the regular season.
This year’s edition was held last Saturday, and as always it began with a pilgrimage to the grave of legendary sportscaster Bernard “Buddy D.” Diliberto in Lake Lawn Cemetery, where prayers like “Hail Buddy D.” and “Our Coach” were offered up.
“It’s about finding ways to channel these magical moments we’ve experienced as fans, these moments that really are fleeting,” Louis said.
More mojo emerged during the Saints’ Super Bowl run in 2009. That’s when Wendy LoCoco innocently decided to serve a steamed artichoke as a game snack and wound up minting a new game-day devotion.
Her husband Chip LoCoco now insists that an artichoke be on hand whenever they watch games at their Lakeview home, and, taking no chances, he’s brought canned artichokes along while attending games in person.
“You wear the same jersey, you order the same drink, these are the things you do when you’re a fan,” Chip LoCoco said. “So yes, I do believe an artichoke can influence a game.”