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America's Team?

The New Orleans Saints are not the first team to be assigned the task of raising the spirits of a group of people battered by calamity. Of their victory over the Carolina Panthers last weekend, I say "Good on 'em."

A field goal with three seconds left makes for a rousing conclusion to a football game. The successful kick could have been upstaged only if some Panther had returned the ensuing kickoff for a ninety seven yard touchdown...preferably a Panther from New Orleans who played at Tulane and had pledged his salary to restoring the campus.

Would football fans from New Orleans have been further depressed if the Panthers had beaten the Saints last weekend? I don't think so, but I may be in the minority on that one, just as I was in the minority when the majority maintained that it would be great and righteous if the Yankees won the 2001 World Series after New York suffered through the horror and damage of 9/11, and, likewise, that it was magnificently symbolic that New England won the first Super Bowl following the destruction of the World Trade Center, because the team is called the Patriots.

People get a charge out of games won by the teams they follow. Otherwise, why follow them?

But games are games. To suggest that the Saints — or the Yankees, or the Patriots — have suddenly become, as a result of grim circumstances, America's team, bearers of a spiritual burden, designated demonstrators of indomitable will in the face of adversity, feels at worst like cynical marketing, at best silly. When the Patriots won that Super Bowl back in early 2002, the team's owner, Robert Kraft, said the victory was appropriate because we were all patriots. One especially irreverent acquaintance of mine wondered aloud whether, if the Rams had won the game, we'd all be sheep. Like him, I'm not prepared to surrender the task of defining patriotism to anybody associated with the N.F.L.

But okay, hooray for the Saints, winners last weekend. If their team's ascent to 2-0 — coupled with the considerably more significant, belated bestirring of FEMA and the generosity of the nation's citizens — will make fans from New Orleans feel better, I hope the Saints beat the Giants on Monday night....unless, of course, the stock market, situated in Manhattan, plummets to zero between now and then...in which case, I guess we all root for a tie.

This program aired on September 16, 2005. The audio for this program is not available.

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