Far from the trash talk that often accompanies regular season NFL games, Wednesday morning’s joint training camp session between the defending champion New Orleans Saints and the New England Patriots, winners of three Super Bowls in four years, turned into a bit of a love-fest.
Pats quarterback Tom Brady had been quoted as saying that New England wants to get back to where the Saints are, approaching the new season as defending champions looking to repeat. But Saints star running back Reggie Bush said, for his team, it’s the other way around.
“I think we look up to them more,” Bush insisted. “Just because we’re trying to get to where they have, just being a constant contender, year in and year out. That’s where we want to get to. We just had our first taste of success really, so it hasn’t been that much.”
Until a few years ago, the Saints were better known as the "Ain’ts." But Bush and his teammates didn’t have a hard time finding fans in Foxborough.
A blond woman, Troy, was wearing a T-shirt adorned with a gold sequined Saints fleurs-de-lis, which caught the sunlight and, like a beacon, drew Saints fans to the northwest corner of the lawn.
“Brought it all the way here from Monroe, Louisiana,” Troy said. “We gotta go for our Super Bowl champs. Whoo hoo! Who dat?”
The Saints entered training camp with their championship roster largely intact. Adam, a Saints fan from New Hampshire who inherited his black-and-gold blood from his father, has high hopes that the Saints will become the first NFL team to repeat as champions since the Patriots did it in 2004.
“Oh definitely. Believe dat,” Adam joked. “They look even better than last year. Another year under their belt. Another year in the offense. Another year under Greg Williams defense. I think it’s gonna be scary for the rest of the teams out there.”
Most of the Saints fans who attended training camp, like a handful of 12-year-olds from Dedham, had never seen their team in-person. They became fans of the Saints in just the past few years.
“Because they live in New Orleans and they’ve been through a lot,” Drew explained. “I think that if they’ve been thorough a lot and they still have faith in their team, that’s really nice.”
Saints second-year safety Malcom Jenkins might have won even more fans as he entertained his teammates, the Patriots and the crowd during pre-practice stretches with a dance routine to George Clinton’s “Atomic Dog”.
Jenkins says he doesn’t mind that the dual tragedies of Hurricane Katrina and now the Gulf oil spill have brought new fans to his team.
“Before Katrina, we really weren’t that good,” Jenkins laughed. “After Katrina, we got some new guys in and Coach Payton came in and we started building a team and when you get better you gonna bring in some fans.”
Defensive end Will Smith, in his seventh season as a Saint, says hard times in New Orleans will always remain part of the team’s history.
“When you’re dealing with teams, it’s all about the story,” Smith said. “Look at the Cowboys, the 49ers, they have great stories in the past, great history, and I guess that’s just part of our story that brings fans to us.”
Of course, by the time the recording of "Carmina Burana" floated through Gillette Stadium for the Patriots' first exhibition game of the season, also against the Saints, it was hard to find fans of the opposition in the crowd.
The Pats gave their fans plenty to cheer about, from an early sack of quarterback Drew Brees to a late game pick off Chase Daniels, the third-string Saints quarterback who had a chance to put his team in the lead.
After the game, the Saints' head coach, Sean Payton, barked brusquely at reporters about how his team had “a lot to get corrected.” By then, nobody was dancing in the Saints' locker room.
Even Brees, who’d been happily using the word “repeat” since the morning after the Saints' victory in February, was a little more somber at his post-game press conference.
“Here’s the thing,” Brees said. “Let’s say we drive down at the end of the game and we score a touchdown and we win. The locker room’s gonna be a little peppier after the game, but I’d be standing up here telling you the exact same thing which is there’s still a lot of things we have to clean up.”
Drew Brees and the Saints will get that chance next week. On Wednesday, the Houston Texans will arrive in Louisiana to join the Saints for two days of dual practices before an exhibition game in the Superdome on Saturday.
This program aired on August 14, 2010.