In purely competitive terms, preseason games like tonight’s hometown tilt between the Saints and the Tennessee Titans offer the prospect of win, lose or shrug. The outcome has no bearing on team standings, and even individual player stats built up in preseason are wiped clean once the regular season begins.
But if you think that means preseason games don’t matter, you aren’t talking to the right Who Dats.
“Preseason tells me football is back,” said John Cressend, 33, an accountant from Metairie. “It means summer is almost over; it means the next five months, every Sunday is all about football. It’s when you start getting the juices flowing again.”
For football-crazed New Orleans, preseason breaks a long football drought. While teams use the games for fine tuning and player assessment, for fans they can be dress rehearsals for the season to come and an early herald of the good times they anticipate each fall as the weather slackens and the football competition intensifies.
“It’s our preseason, too. As fans, it’s a time to get back to our rituals that we do for all the games,” said Jill Spragio, 49, a controller at WWL-TV.
For Spragio, those rituals include songwriting. Each year, she and her wife, Ally Dever, make up little ditties to sing when their favorite Saints make big plays, whether at their Uptown home or at their favorite bar, Finn McCool’s Irish Pub. Preseason is the time to watch new additions to the roster for inspiration.
“We’re working on one for Brandin Cooks,” she said, referring to the rookie wide receiver, as she started humming an old Hank Williams tune. “It’ll be something like, ‘Hey good looking, Brandin’s cooking, won’t you cook up a touchdown for me?’ ”
Preseason augurs more pragmatic planning for the Saints season ahead, too. There are parties to schedule, logistical duties to assign around tailgating groups, menus and themed drinks to devise, time-off requests to file for days after big games and travel plans to be finalized for away-game road trips, all underscoring the extent to which social life revolves around Saints season.
At Kelly Mullins’ home in Mandeville, preseason can feel like the kickoff to Christmas, as the mother of two hauls out fleur-de-lis decorations for the house and car and starts looking forward to all the gatherings with family and friends on the horizon.
“You think about everything the Saints have brought us. It lifts everybody’s spirits,” said Mullins, 47, a mammographer at St. Tammany Parish Hospital Women’s Pavilion. “Everyone across the city gets excited, and we’re finally united — everybody. I wish we could have that all year round, but at least we have it during football season. In preseason, you can tell we’re getting back to that again.”
For fans headed to the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, this first preseason home game also may serve as a refresher course in the tighter security measures introduced last year at all NFL stadiums. Fans should expect to get a once-over with a metal detector wand before entering the facility, and bags are restricted to small, transparent parcels and hand-sized clutch purses. Though kickoff is at 7 p.m., Superdome officials have been reminding ticket holders to take these procedures into account for their own pregame plans.
Of course, preseason games normally draw smaller crowds, making Dome access a little easier. The lower stakes on the field also tend to reduce the blood pressure in the stands, and that’s why Mid-City resident Greg Hymel likes to use preseason games for family outings with his daughters Ava, age 8, and Molly, age 5.
“This is the time to indoctrinate them into the whole Who Dat nation,” said Hymel, 42, a GIS manager for the city of New Orleans. “The Terrace just becomes a lot more family-friendly. And I’m still paying attention to the games, but I don’t mind as much if I’m spending half the game ushering kids to the bathroom.”
Still, Hymel, insists certain pregame traditions must be followed for exhibition games, too — namely, tailgating outside the Dome. “The game may not count, but the pregaming still does,” he said.
Some fans follow preseason games closely, watching for clues of what the regular season may bring. That includes Joe Ricks, a professor and chairman of the division of business at Xavier University who will be paying more attention than usual when he attends tonight’s game.
“I’m not always excited about preseason, but this year is different,” Ricks said. “There’s a lot of new guys that we haven’t seen before, and I feel like there’s so many young guys right on the brink of really breaking out. I want to see what they can do.”
Preseason also is time for serious study for Benny Terranova, 60, and his son, Anthony, 30, who both man the butcher counter at Terranova’s Supermarket, their 89-year-old family grocery in Faubourg St. John. Each year, they post their prediction for the Saints season on a tally board above their meat-cutting station, paired with the team’s actual record as the season unfolds. But first, they’ll gather intel from the preseason games, then compare notes and come up with a unified father-and-son pick.
The board was a creation of the late Anthony Terranova Sr., Benny’s father, who installed it in the store in 2002. The younger Anthony Terranova, his grandson, remembers that they hit the Saints record precisely the first two seasons. Since then, they’ve been close, and the prediction board has become a focal point of the small grocery store during football season.
“People come in all the time, or we’ll see people on the streetcar, and they ask, ‘When’s the prediction coming? When are you going to call it?’ ” Benny Terranova said. “But you have to wait to see what (the Saints) have. That’s what preseason is for.”
Follow Ian McNulty on Twitter, @IanMcNultyNOLA.