Tales from Press Row - Visiting the Saints

October 20, 2011
Visiting the Saints

A little over a month ago, I walked into the media workroom at the New Orleans Saints’ practice facility in Metairie for the first time. My unexpected entrance resulted in several confused looks among local media members, followed by sarcastic (but good-natured) comments such as "Uh Jim, what are you doing here? Did you make a wrong turn? Are you lost?"

I explained to my perplexed colleagues that I was stopping by to interview Saints tight end Jimmy Graham, for a brand-new football/basketball interview series on Hornets.com. Numerous Saints players frequently attend Hornets games, so it seemed like an excellent idea to incorporate them into this website in some fashion.

Having never spent significant time around an NFL team, I had a few preconceived notions about what my visits to the Saints would be like. A few of them proved to be erroneous. For example, whenever I’ve watched video clips from Saints head coach Sean Payton’s press conferences on local TV news, I’ve always envisioned him holding court in front of roughly 20 or 30 reporters. On the Friday I visited prior to the Saints’ Week 5 game at Carolina, however, there were two rows of seats set up for the local media - but only one person sitting in them. Jeff Duncan, the outstanding newspaper columnist who has written two books about the Saints’ history, looked up at Payton and said, "Well, I guess I’m a one-man band today." Duncan then proceeded to ask a handful of questions related to the game against the Panthers.

I’ve been in NBA locker rooms hundreds of times, but had never previously gotten a "backstage" view of the NFL. I imagined NFL locker rooms would be more intimidating and more intense, given the brief glimpses we see of them on TV. But on the Fridays I’ve visited, the atmosphere has been calm and relaxed. By Friday of an average NFL workweek, the game plan has already been installed. Virtually all that remains by then is for players to get mentally prepared and rested for game day.

The Saints players I’ve spoken with so far have been extremely enthusiastic about discussing their love of basketball. I imagine that’s partly because the subject matter is a breath of fresh air for them, unlike standard interviews they do during football season where they primarily discuss X’s and O’s or the next opponent. Numerous Saints players are knowledgeable NBA fans, including Graham, a Miami Heat season ticket holder.

From what I’ve seen, the NBA/NFL crossover in interest certainly goes both ways. Every year there are a multitude of Hornets coaches and players who are devoted football fans and watch the NFL every Sunday. The NBA schedule isn’t exactly conducive to following professional football, but many members of the Hornets organization, including groups of players, have attended Saints games in the Superdome in recent years.

In January and February of 2010, while the entire city of New Orleans was glued to TV sets in homes, restaurants and bars during the Saints’ run to a title, the Hornets gathered to watch as a team on midseason road trips. The Hornets viewed the Saints’ historic NFC Championship Game victory against Brett Favre’s Minnesota Vikings from a restaurant in Portland, Ore., on an off day following a Saturday game in Denver.

Two weeks later, on Feb. 7, 2010, Hornets coaches and players watched Super Bowl XLIV from a sports bar in Orlando, roughly 24 hours before facing the Orlando Magic.

As it turned out, the Hornets had some unexpected - but quite familiar - company that Sunday evening in Florida. Due to heavy snowfall in the Washington, D.C. area that February weekend, the Washington Wizards’ flight home was postponed after a loss to the Magic on Feb. 5. So as the Saints and Indianapolis Colts squared off in Super Bowl XLIV, many patrons of a popular Orlando sports bar were a bit taken aback. It’s not often that you see members of two NBA teams watching the Super Bowl together.

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