The Right Reasons for the Season
The win-loss stats aren’t the only measure of Louisiana’s gridiron greatness this year.

I finally took the Saints wreath off the front door of our home. So did my neighbor and ABiz colleague Laura Ketteringham, whose abode was absolutely resplendent in black and gold. Her threshold shrine to the Saints was more Versacci, ours more Land’s End — two very different expressions of one love. It’s all packed away now, awaiting the promise of another season, but from the Cajuns to the Tigers to the Saints, it was great year to be a football fan in Louisiana. No, really. It was.

The Saints missed a return engagement to the Super Bowl, and I’m sad about that, but what a season. In the final game, the NFL’s best offense proved the ultimate test for the league’s best defense, rebounding even before the end of a first quarter riddled with turnovers that would likely have buried most teams. Who can forget the image of Drew Brees sitting on the sidelines immediately after throwing an interception, engrossed in the play charts, clipboard in his hands, confident in his defensive squad and focused on the Saints next possession? He had clearly put the mistake behind him and moved on, along with his teammates who never gave up. Every viewer, listener and fan in the stands knew the game wasn’t over until the last pass was thrown. Just a few weeks prior, the Saints rolled over the Falcons, shattering one NFL record after the next, seemingly invincible. They were gracious through it all — the wins, the losses, the record book re-writes — a class act, a committed effort, a winning team. Is there a better lesson in football or in life than that?

LSU made it to the big game but lost, and I’m sad about that, too. Until this season my loathing of Tiger football (though not other sports) has been open and gleeful, but Les Miles won me over last fall by suspending two players, including starting quarterback Jordan Jefferson, for their roles in a pre-season bar fight. It was a gutsy move. Too often star athletes, collegiate and pro, are allowed to operate above the law. After full grand jury review, the charges were reduced and suspensions lifted, but kudos to Miles and LSU administrators for doing the right thing. The Tigers still chalked up a 13-0 season, with and without Jefferson, but were eventually shut out in the National Championship. The Advocate reported that only 30 of the so-called Tiger faithful showed up to welcome home this team of proven winners after their final game. Pity. The Tigers delivered a perfect season. Coach Miles called all the right plays when it mattered most. It was an exemplary performance I hope all fans can someday learn to appreciate.

And finally to our beloved Ragin’ Cajuns, Coach Hud and his rope of hope for a team deemed likely to finish in the cellar. We in Lafayette have always considered ourselves a winning community; the Cajuns just provided an added dimension last year and it was a joy. It was also good for business. In a study commissioned in 2001, Dr. Loren Scott calculated that a winning LSU football season compared to a losing one meant $9 million-plus in additional spending in Baton Rouge. Perhaps UL will study what a winning Cajun season meant to the local economy in 2011; retailers like Brother Abdalla probably already know. But those who followed the Cajuns this year are reminded of something even more important: leadership matters. Thank you.

My husband Steve and I were visiting family in Pennsylvania on the weekend the Saints lost to the 49ers. From cab drivers to waiters and flight attendants, we often heard: “Oh, you’re from Louisiana? Sorry about LSU and the Saints. It must be tough to be a football fan from Louisiana right now, huh?” I guess that all depends on how you look at it. Actually, no. Not really. In fact, not at all.

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