((Also published at www.chicksinthehuddle.com ))
In the opening minutes of the Saints' first preseason game in the dome, the vibe was electric. The crowd was like a hungry pack of wolves, prepared to feast on the flesh of the Houston Texans. But when it came time to sink their teeth into the enemy, the enemy wasn't wearing a Texans jersey.
Just minutes into the game, Jason David found himself on the receiving end of a verbal flogging, courtesy of the home crowd. Had the boos from Saints fans been hundred dollar bills, David would be about 5 million dollars richer. Saints fans, known for their passion and knack for telling it like it is, let David have it after a 14-yard Texans completion in the first quarter. And from that point on, it just kept getting uglier.
In an interview with the Times Picayune, Jason David accepted the boos from the crowd, admitting that he likely would have booed himself for his performance. (I commend a man for knowing when he sucks and having the courage to point the finger squarely at his own chest.) But Saints quarterback Drew Brees wasn't as understanding when it came to the crowd's frustration.
"C'mon people. We haven't even started playing games that count yet. It's extremely unfair. We're talking about the first quarter of our first preseason game at home. The bottom line is we all need to improve -- offense, defense and special teams. We shouldn't be hearing boos, especially at this time. We should be hearing encouragement."
This isn't the first time Drew has chided Saints fans over their barrage of boos. Back in November, when Olindo Mare lined up for what many expected to be another missed field goal in the dome, Who Dats hurled the heckles at the kicker. Drew made a frustrated gesture to the fans in an effort to quiet them down. And he had this to say after the game...
"That's the dumbest thing ever. We're in a dome, great kicking conditions, but when the fans are booing you it's just echoing everywhere. I mean -- people -- support him. You want him to make it, right? Don't boo. Cheer."
Needless to say...Olindo missed the kick.
So the question remains...is Drew right? Are Saints fans being too hard on their team? Are they hurting player morale and possibly jeopardizing the production on the field? Or are these just grown men who make waaaaay too much money to complain about what the folks paying their salaries have to say? Suprisingly enough, I'm torn.
For starters, I definitely think that these are grown men who make waaaay too much money to complain about what folks paying their salaries have to say. In fact in most cases, the simple formula is "Do your job and you don't get booed." With that said, I don't think booing a player during the game could ever be considered an effective motivational tool to get him to perform, especially a kicker whose accuracy often times largely depends on nerves. Now after the game...let it all out. I sure as hell do!
Football is a game of emotion and momentum. One swing of the pendulum in the wrong direction can turn a game on it's head. I'm not saying David should get a "That's okay, Champ" Little League Coach-esque response every time he gets beat on man coverage. But I also don't think booing his every mistake will make him more focused and thusly more proficient at his job. And I realize that sometimes the booing is not so much meant for the player as it is for the coach who's leaving him in. Still, the emotion of the crowd can have a ripple effect on the whole team, regardless of the intended target.
I lived in Atlanta for 3 years and sadly was forced to get my football fix on many a Sunday by attending Falcons games. (Don't worry, I got free tickets.) Anyways, I found it both laughable and pathetic that Falcons fans seemed so quick to turn on their team. They'd boo them on 3 and outs in the 2nd quarter, they'd boo them on the way to the tunnel at the half, they'd boo them on blown coverage or missed routes. It was like being at an Ashlee Simpson concert. I couldn't help but think to myself, "How silly is this. Are they really dumb enough to think booing will make this team play better? Stupid Falcons!" Then I'd proceed to spilling my beer "accidentally-on-purpose" on the Falcons fan next to me.
While I've never thought of Saints fans as fairweather, I must admit there is something slightly misguided about cranking up the catcalls in the first quarter of a preseason game. And yes, I know Jason David's disastrous performance has the power to turn even the most mild-mannered among us into a rabid animal craving the taste of fresh blood. But ultimately, I'd rather save my negative energy for the refs' bad calls and the opposing teams than for the players in black and gold on game day. Besides, a Monday morning Chick rant has long felt much healthier than the shallow mid-game jeer.
Here's the flip side to all of this...we fans pay good money to see our team play hard. Ticket prices seem to go up every year. Hell, you gotta pay damn near $10 for a beer. So when we go to the games, we want 100% from everyone, every time they take the field. When a player routinely disappoints, we as fans almost seem compelled to let the player or even the coaching staff know that changes must be made. Not to mention the fact that many of these angry fans have been with the team through decades of hardships, disappointment, and embarrassment. One might say they've earned the right to boo whomever, whenever they damn well please. One might say it, but I'm not sure that I'm willing to.
Just as I was wrapping up this article, I got a call from my dad, the man who attended the Saints very first game at Tulane Stadium and has been in awe of the team ever since. He's the same man who inspired my love for football and this beleaguered team. I asked this ultimate Saints fan his take on the "boo-ha-ha." His response: classic dad.
"You can't blame the fans. I'm not against him (David) but when I saw him the other night I said, 'I hope I don't end up looking at his ass.' Next thing you know I blink my eyes...touchdown against the Saints. And I said 'Aw sh*t...#42.' But you know, I go for the underdog. I want him to succeed. And who knows, this might be his year. He might be man of the year. "
He went on to say..."I love my Saints. I love me some football and it's gonna happen. It's got to happen. I really do believe that this is the year."
Blind optimism....now that's the Saintly spirit.