Dear Commissioner Goodell,
So you're finally here. You've no doubt looked forward to a warm, glowing reception in New Orleans from the moment you heard about the "DO NOT SERVE" signs with your picture on them popping up at local bars and restaurants. You're likely worried a second line awaits you at Super Bowl XLVII, ready to mourn your lost reputation.
That's understandable. After all, you're aware most of us blame you at least in part (but mostly, directly) for the anomalous travesty that was the 2012 New Orleans Saints season. See, we were hoping the Saints would be the first NFL team ever to play a Super Bowl in its home stadium. After a stellar 2011 season, we had reason to hope. But in 2012, you swooped in with harsh punishments for a bounty scandal. Before your drive to make an example had a chance to be thwarted by Paul Tagliabue, the courts and karma, the Saints' season was all but doomed.
Still, we kept the faith. But instead of a capacity hometown crowd booing you at the coin toss, we're faced with another neutral bowl, albeit the first championship where a host city views the commissioner as a pariah. Perhaps you're wondering why a city can get so riled up over what is ultimately a business franchise.
Well, allow us to introduce ourselves.
We are Saints fans. Vibrant, irrational and unsinkable — much like New Orleans itself. All teams say their fan bases are the most rabid, but few are as organic as the one you'll find right here. The Saints have never belonged to anyone else, nor could they. And the feeling is mutual — many players settle in this crazy town for life after they've played their last, and they're family.
Our fanhood often blurs the line between team and city — and beyond. When was the last time you saw a T-shirt with a spiked helmet that read, "Defend Cincinnati"? Would Dallas Cowboys fans ever call their quarterback Romosus? How many citizens, ravaged by one of the worst natural disasters in U.S. history, would promptly think, "Please don't let our team vacate to San Antonio"?
Saints fans aren't fair-weather fans; we're all-weather fans.
For decades, you knew a real Saints fan because there was no other kind. We didn't have a winning tradition, and we weren't particularly lovable losers. In better years, we got lost in the middle of the pack. But we still cheered for our team week after week. It could have gone on forever like that.
But then something happened. The Saints started winning. First in flashes. And then, regularly. They almost got to the Super Bowl. Then they did, and won it. After decades of losing, we finally tasted the sweet gravy of winning. And with winning comes the inevitable backlash. For the first time ever, the Saints were a target. It was a nice problem to have, but unfamiliar territory for our humble, small-market team. So when you swung the hammer down on our franchise, it was hard not to take it personally.
That's how you became, in the eyes of New Orleans, the catalyst of our team's downfall in 2012, as well as the singular embodiment of everything wrong with the NFL's well-intentioned safety efforts.
On the other hand, New Orleans is also known for its hospitality. We welcome and embrace visitors from all over the world — even Atlanta Falcons fans. We have too many spectacular attractions and hidden treasures to show anyone a bad time. Like you, we want our first title game in a decade to be a success. We respect that you have a job to do.
So enjoy your visit here. But don't be surprised if you detect an undercurrent of grumbling. That's just us, in the words of our formerly exiled coach, doing our job.
It's nothing to worry about, because New Orleans has no plans for revenge on Super Bowl Sunday.
We're saving that for the field next season.
— Ian McGibboney is a Louisiana native who blogs at "Not Right About Anything" (ianmcgibboney.blogspot.com) and can be found on Twitter: @ianyourhead.