Advocate staff photo by MATTHEW HINTON--New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees signs autographs for fans at the Touchdown Club's 46th Annual Meet the Saints Luncheon on Friday at the Marriott Hotel.

Monsignor Christopher H. Nalty delighted Friday afternoon’s packed crowd at the 46th Annual Meet The Saints Luncheon with his rendition of “O God, Our Help is Ages Past,” a traditional hymn.

O God, our help in ages past, Our hope for years to come,

Our shelter from the stormy blast, And our eternal home.

Nalty then remixed the following verse.

Beneath the shadow of your throne Your Saints have dwelt secure;

Sufficient is your arm alone — Drew Brews -— ... And our defense — Rob Ryan — is sure.

Only in New Orleans. Well... maybe also Green Bay.

“I feel sorry for my priest friends living in Atlanta or Tampa Bay,” Nalty said, setting up his own punch line at the New Orleans Marriott.

“Who wants to aspire to be a dirty bird or a pirate?”

The crowded laughed, Nalty blessed the food, those who fixed it and the Saints, his prayer ending with a fan yelling what everybody in the ballroom was thinking.

“Super Bowl!”

Expectations are high this season, and for good reasons.

The Drew Brees-led second-ranked passing offense from 2013 is expected to be even better, with speedy and shifty rookie receiver Brandin Cooks — he sat next to Brees — and an improved running game, thanks to Mark Ingram’s healthy status and a rejuvenated offensive line.

On defense, the addition of prized free agent Jarius Byd and no major offseason injuries are expected to be help last season’s fourth-ranked defense play even better.

That was enough for longtime fan Raymond Delco of Berwick to make the 90-minute drive south to downtown New Orleans for Friday’s annual luncheon.

“Everybody is predicting the Saints to go to the Super Bowl; that’s what the media is saying,” said Delco, who agrees with a caveat: “The game still has to be played on the field.”

The Saints travel to Indianapolis on Saturday for their third preseason game. The regular season starts Sept. 7 at Atlanta.

With the games days away, fans flocked to players’ tables for autographs after the luncheon. Injured fullback Erik Lorig did not attend.

“Each year, it’s continually gotten bigger, it’s gotten better” said Payton, now in his ninth season as Saints coach. “I think our players, and I know the fans, we all appreciate the efforts and the time on task it takes to put together something like this.”

Jim Henderson, longtime local sportscaster and play-by-play announcer for Saints radio, served as Friday’s master of ceremonies, dishing out a blend of jokes and notes as he announced the player roster and coaches.

His best lines and tidbits: Brees’ competitive nature has irked him so much that he and his wife are expecting their fourth child — two behind backup quarterback Luke McCown. ... About long snapper Dustin Dresser: “The less you hear his name, the better job he’s doing.”... Cornerback Rod Sweeting’s middle name is Hillary. ... Byrd is an accomplished saxophone player. ...


Right tackle Zach Strief was named Offensive Most Valuable Player for the 2013 season, and cornerback Keenan Lewis earned Defensive MVP honors. ... On special teams, the award went to Ramon Humber and receiver Marques Colston won the Ed Block Courage Award.