The Whistle Monsta isn’t ready to drink the Kool-Aid quite yet. But he’s close.
Colorful game-time persona aside, Saints superfan Leroy “Whistle Monsta” Mitchell is also a realist. He soberly assesses the team’s prospects. He does not believe the hype. He doesn’t drink the Kool-Aid.
But after the Saints crushed the Buffalo Bills last weekend for their seventh consecutive win, Mitchell jokes, he “poured a third of a glass, and took a small sip. I’m not guzzling yet.”
However, if the Saints beat the Washington Redskins in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on Sunday, and prevail over the Los Angeles Rams the following week, Mitchell “will be getting drunk on that Kool-Aid.”
He and a lot of other fans.
The Saints opened 2017 with two losses. A repeat of the three previous, disappointing seasons looked likely. Spending Sunday afternoons fretting over the Saints slipped down the list of priorities for some non-hardcore fans.
Then the wins started piling up. More folks got interested, if not fully invested, in the team’s prospects.
It's now time to invest.
A win on Sunday will improve the Saints’ record to 8-2. They will have won eight in a row.
Eight. Straight. Games.
That would surpass their win total in each of the past three seasons, and with six more games to go.
Seemingly out of nowhere, fans must adjust to the reality of the Saints as contenders. It’s as if a hurricane suddenly popped up off the Louisiana coast, but a hurricane of happiness.
The beatdown of the Bills may have been the tipping point. Hank Staples, one of the three Bless You Boys “popes” who occupy front-row seats in the Dome along the visiting team’s sideline, sensed it. After the Bills game, he said, “Everyone I know is thinking the same thing: It’s in Minnesota.”
“It” being the Super Bowl. And Minnesota being cold.
Such is the level of confidence surging through the Who Dat Nation that fans are considering the downside of traveling to frigid Minneapolis to cheer for the Saints in the Super Bowl.
“The game is in a domed stadium, but even so, you have to get from the hotel to the stadium,” Staples said.
He spent nearly a week in south Florida for the Saints’ Super Bowl appearance following the 2009 season. “Miami had music and food — it was like being in Spanish New Orleans," he said. "Miami was fun. I really don’t see Minnesota as being that much fun. I can’t see us going for a week.”
The Florida trip cost Staples a small fortune: “At the time, it didn’t matter, because we thought it was once in a lifetime. But this year, they look really good. And every week, they seem to look a little better.”
Like his buddy Mitchell, Staples is not a pie-in-the-sky fan. He rationally analyzes strengths, weaknesses and week-to-week progress. After the 0-2 start, he figured that, at best, the Saints might sneak into the playoffs as a wild card team with an 8-8 record.
A 7-2 record is “a lot better than I thought it would be at this point," he said. "If they keep going, they will be quite a team by the end of the year.”
Instinctively, Saints fans fear a collapse is right around the corner. Historically, it often was. Sometimes it was a single-game collapse. Sometimes it was a season-long collapse. False hope was a necessary survival tactic.
This year’s slow start nipped false hope in the bud. Thus, the newfound optimism is based not on hope, but reality: The Saints are for real.
National media chatter about the team has reached a fever pitch. Coaches and players must tune out the noise and stay focused.
But fans are free to guzzle the Kool-Aid.
Prior to 2009, Mitchell didn’t think he’d ever see the Saints in the Super Bowl. Now he is allowing himself, however cautiously, to at least consider the possibility of a second Black and Gold Super Bowl.
After the 0-2 start, he advised fellow Who Dats to “put your seatbelt on and get a nice adult beverage. It’s going to be a long season.”
Suffice to say, he did not anticipate a seven-game winning streak. “Hell, no. Anybody that thought they’d be reeling off this many wins in a row was tapping into their inner ‘squirrel,’ as Buddy D used to say.”
A “squirrel,” in the parlance of the late great sportscaster Buddy Diliberto, was a radio show caller who had taken leave of his senses.
A friend in California recently suggested Mitchell reserve a ticket to Minneapolis, just in case. He’s not having it: “That’s taboo to me. I don’t play that.
“But there’s no way the Saints are going to go to the Super Bowl and I’m not going, too.”
Speaking for every fan, the Whistle Monsta is “happy as hell that they’re winning. Because they could be losing.”