For those Who Dats who may have missed it, New Orleans’ most beloved professional sports team — a Saints franchise that was only one play away from getting to the Super Bowl a few months ago — was on the receiving end of more criticism recently. They’ve seemingly gotten an overwhelming amount during the 2019 NFL off-season.
Not surprisingly, this time it came from some folks who could be considered less-than-objective.
Specifically, in one instance last Friday and only a day after details in a story had been published regarding Louisiana’s plans to give the Mercedes-Benz Superdome a $450 million “facelift,” a long-time beat writer for the Saints’ bitterly despised archrivals the Atlanta Falcons decided to give his unsolicited opinion on the Black and Gold’s home stadium of the past 45 years.
The Athletic Senior Writer Jeff Schultz, who has covered the Falcons for over 30 years (since 1989) dating all the way back to his days as a writer for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution city newspaper, called the Superdome a “dump” on Twitter — although he made sure not to say anything derogatory about the team or its super-passionate Who Dat Nation fan-base.
I love the city, the food and the people. But there's 2 things I know about New Orleans: 1) The stadium is a dump; 2) $450 million won't fix that. https://t.co/LuIiRxECw8
— Jeff Schultz (@JeffSchultzATL) May 2, 2019
Schultz didn’t take the time to elaborate further on just what it was that made him feel that way, although his viewpoint on the Superdome clearly appears to derive from the bias that supposedly unbiased journalists aren’t supposed to have.
Given the fact that he’s covered the Falcons franchise for over 30 years now and is an experienced long-time veteran of the “war of words” that annually takes place in the Saints-Falcons rivalry of the past 50-plus NFL seasons, this doesn’t really come as a shock.
So… just how accurate is Schultz’s assessment of the Superdome and the shortcomings that he believes half a billion dollars worth of renovations can’t fix?
While the Superdome certainly could stand to benefit from a so-called makeover, calling it a “dump” might be considered a little bit over the top. Of course, it could be that Schultz was just “trolling” the Saints (and the many Saints fans on Twitter) for the general purpose of self-entertainment; he’s obviously well aware of the reaction and response that he was going to get.
But if we are to take Schultz and his opinion seriously, then it should be pointed out that just within the past two seasons alone (2017 and 2018), the Saints were ranked #1 overall for Game Day satisfaction out of all 32 NFL teams, according to a report from the NFL’s Observation Program. To drive that point home: the organization finished within the Top 10 in seven out of the possible nine categories that were listed in the report itself.
The Superdome, which began construction originally in August of 1971 but didn’t open until four years later in August of 1975, hasn’t been upgraded since the repairs that were made to the stadium following the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Those renovations took place back in 2006 prior to the building’s re-opening, and these latest renovations will be the first major updates in 13 years.
As originally reported by WWLTV New Orleans: the opening phase of improvements will include the removal of 80,000 square feet of the old, carpeted interior ramps throughout the interior of the building itself, and in its place will be the scheduled installation of an entire series of escalators and elevators that will provide better accessibility to all levels of the stadium.
Additionally, a current parking space at the base/ground level of the structure will be converted into a large kitchen and food-service area, to service customers on Game Days. The Saints organization has agreed to pay for 1/3 of the overall costs, and all four scheduled phases of the renovation are expected to be done before NOLA hosts Super Bowl LVIII (58) in the year 2024.
Those facts notwithstanding, the tweet by Schulz only adds to the overwhelming criticism that’s been levied at both the Saints organization and its fan-base, from various circles throughout the NFL; following the Black and Gold’s controversial loss in the NFC Championship Game to the Los Angeles Rams a few months ago.
The reaction by the team and fans to the manner in which they were prevented from reaching the Super Bowl, has come under fire by a wide variety of NFL analysts and rival fan-bases in the past few months; all of whom feel that the Saints and the Who Dat Nation fan-base are being “whiners” or “crybabies”.
This past weekend, that notion or idea gained renewed attention after the good folks that run the Saints team Twitter account tweeted in response to Saturday’s controversial ending to the 145th running of the Kentucky Derby, which is essentially the “Super Bowl” of the thoroughbred professional horse-racing industry.
For those that don’t follow the sport of horse racing, the race’s winner (Maximum Security) was disqualified – the first time a winner had been disqualified in the event’s 145-year history. This was eerily similar to the controversial fashion in which that the NFC Championship game ended, but in this instance, the victory was awarded to another horse (Country House) after horse racing officials assigned to the event overturned the win via instant replay.
Obviously, the action taken to overturn the race’s ending was viewed by many as an indication that a major professional sport can, in fact, make a ruling or change a call in a major sporting event via the use of instant replay. That fact wasn’t lost on the Saints organization, who sent out this hilarious tweet after the decision to reverse the race’s final outcome was announced.
— New Orleans Saints (@Saints) May 4, 2019
Of course, that generated a ton of response, particularly one from the people that run the Falcons team Twitter account, who tweeted in response to the one made by the Saints account.
— Atlanta Falcons (@AtlantaFalcons) May 4, 2019
Now it goes without saying that the Saints and their fans are still upset about the way in which the team was robbed of an opportunity to go the Super Bowl, and the criticism that they’ve gotten from around the NFL has been well-documented.
While it’s perfectly understandable that they should still be upset about the outcome a few months ago, the rest of the League hasn’t been nearly as sympathetic to their plight. However, the reputation of the Saints and their fans aside, an injustice was done to a city and franchise that indisputably had a shot at winning an elusive 2nd World Championship.
The prevalent notion that’s been thrown out there that they should just “get over it”somehow — and be perfectly willing to accept that outcome without there being some sort of significant action taken to prevent it from ever happening to another team — is something that is unfathomable. The label the Saints and their supporters have been given as “whiners” or “cry-babies,” might just be a little bit disingenuous. This ridiculous notion that they shouldn’t feel the way that they do after having gone through a gut-wrenching and emotionally-crushing experience vs. the Rams, is probably expecting a little too much.
Let’s call it as it truly is: had that controversy happened to a team that has a larger national following such as the New England Patriots or the Dallas Cowboys, and not to the Saints, it can’t be denied that the prevailing narrative from across the nation would very likely be much different.
Sadly, however, that clearly hasn’t been the case.
However, there is one thing that Saints fans SHOULD take absolute delight in, and that is the fact that with the exception of perhaps the Patriots, Rams, and the Kansas City Chiefs, the other teams in the NFL won’t be nearly as good as the Saints are expected to be when the upcoming 2019 NFL Season gets underway.
As a testament to that fact, the Saints just recently were named the #1 overall team in the entire NFL heading into next season by the League’s very own website (NFL.com), just two weeks ago. That came on the heels of a similar poll a few weeks prior, put out by the folks at ESPN.
— NFL on ESPN (@ESPNNFL) April 2, 2019
And believe this much, ladies and gentlemen: that does NOT sit well with a handful of people elsewhere within the League, and certainly with the other teams and fanbases that have notable past history against the Saints. Besides their arch-rivals the Falcons, that would include the team’s other NFC South division rivals the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Carolina Panthers, along with a few other teams from within their conference (the NFC). That, of course, includes the Rams, as well as the Minnesota Vikings and even the Chicago Bears.
With that, there is one thing that Saints fans need to remember.
In fact, there’s a meme that’s been circulating on Social Media recently that perfectly sums up just how most of the other teams in the NFL — and those Atlanta Falcons and their fan-base in particular — view the Saints franchise.
It’s highlighted by this phrase: “They hate us because they ain’t us”.
Jealousy, it’s been said, is usually an indication of wanting some form of exclusivity, or to be viewed as someone (or something) special.
And for those teams and their fans, they’d like to be where the Saints are at the moment: a team overflowing with young and very talented players at a variety of different positions on both sides of the football led by a future NFL Hall of Fame quarterback and a cocky, brash, yet still very successful head coach.
The only thing that the Saints and their fans should be concerned about at this point is the fact that they’ve only ONE Super Bowl title (2009) to show for it, when the harsh and bittersweet reality is that they should have at least won a few more (2011, 2017, and last year’s 2018 Seasons).
In a previous article here at Big Easy Magazine, I personally suggested that the yearly theme or “mantra” that the Saints have every season, in the upcoming 2019 Season should be called “All In,” which is a reference to that of a gambler at a poker table who pushes all of his chips or cash money into the middle of the table, and puts everything into winning that hand because he or she is that confident that they have the winning cards to do it with.
That’s where the state of the Saints franchise sits at this moment (Tuesday Morning, May 7th), and it’s a status that those other 28 teams or so (and especially the Falcons) want to be themselves. Atlanta, who finished with a (7-9) win-loss record last year, should have a slightly better team in 2019 than the one that got swept by the Black and Gold last season.
But there’s no guarantee that they actually will be as good or possibly even any better than New Orleans will be, in 2019.
As it is, the two bitter rivals will have to wait for their initial 2019 face-off against one another until Week #10, in the so-called ‘dump’ of a Superdome (as Schultz not-so-elegantly tried to put it) on November 10th; with the second game/rematch coming just two and a half weeks later on Thanksgiving Night in Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium (feel free to insert your favorite Falcons stadium joke here).
But rest assured, when they finally do meet, all of the little “jabs” and shots that the Falcons have opted to take at the Saints this off-season, will be re-hashed and examined quite thoroughly, for the entire Pro Football world to see.
And that goes not only just for the Falcons, but to all of the other “smack talkers” in recent months, including the Rams (Week #2 in Los Angeles), the Cowboys (Week #4 at the Superdome), the Bears (Week #7 at Chicago), and Carolina twice (Weeks #12 and #17).
This upcoming season has all the makings of a very special year and NFL season for the Saints and the entire Who Dat Nation fan-base, in 2019.
And while most Who Dat fans would be more than okay with the thought of the Saints franchise going “all in” to win finally claim that elusive 2nd Super Bowl title, they can also take comfort in the knowledge that when it comes to the majority of the NFL’s 32 teams, “they hate us because they ain’t us.”
Barry Hirstius is a semi-retired journalist, who has worked as a sports editor and columnist. Barry is a New Orleans native who grew up as a fan of the Saints while attending games as a young boy at the old Tulane Stadium. He is the proud Grandfather of two beautiful young girls, Jasmine and Serenity.