In a world obsessed with finding narrative in sporting contests, last year’s Super Bowl was notable for the saturation coverage given to the Jerome Bettis homecoming fairytale angle.
If, however, the New Orleans Saints make it to Super Bowl XLI, journos and other fable constructors will have far, far richer material to work with.
The Saints travel to Chicago to face the resurgent Bears in the NFC Championship game this Sunday afternoon (Chicago time). In their 40-year history New Orleans has never progressed to a Conference Championship, let alone a Super Bowl.
What makes it remarkable, of course, is that this achievement comes in the second season after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. Last season the Saints played no home games and somehow scratched out a 3-13 record.
Before this season they added key personnel who have been phenomenally successful: debutant head coach Sean Payton, named as NFL Coach of the Year; quarterback Drew Brees, runner-up for league MVP; and hot offensive rookies Marques Colston and Reggie Bush.
The face of the Saints’ story, however, is Deuce McAllister. Hailing from the Gulf Coast, the running back has been with the hapless New Orleans franchise for all of his NFL career. He was a visible figure during Katrina, and continues to actively support the rehabilitation of the city.
Every player wants to win – but some want it more. Last weekend, deep into the fourth quarter with just three points separating the Saints and the Eagles, McAllister ran the ball on four consecutive plays.
Coach Payton said afterwards, “They weren’t going to stop him.” He finished with 143 yards on the ground, 20 through the air, one touchdown reception and another running touchdown where he appeared to pick up the pile and carry it on his shoulders over the line.
For his part, McAllister is not shying away from the big the-team-can-do-it-so-the-city-can-do-it angle.
“I didn’t want to be one and out,” he said after the victory over the Eagles in the Superdome which became notorious during Katrina. “I think it resembles the determination of this city. They’ve given everything they’ve had, and we’ve given them everything we’ve had as a team.”
The winner of the Chicago-New Orleans playoff will meet the winner of the New England-Indianapolis AFC conference final in the Superbowl on 4 February.