WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W. Va. — The things you see and hear at Sunday’s Saints Fan Day activities in Who Datalachia:
Michael Ihle is the mayor of Ravenswood, West Virginia.
If you didn’t know that beforehand, you would because he’s wearing a Saints T-shirt with MAYOR IHLE on the back.
At 28, Ihle is the youngest mayor in the state, having been just 25 when he was elected. He also serves in the state legislature.
A self-described “freedom and liberty for everybody” Republican, Ihle has been a Saints fan since 1999, even if Ravenswood is squarely in Steelers country.
“I’m definitely the No. 1 Saints fan in Ravenswood,” he said. “I tell Steelers fans ‘You don’t know what black and gold is until you see the Saints.’ ”
That might be politically inadvisable (Ihle has already had to defeat one recall effort), but Ihle also has a stump speech comparing the Saints to his state.
“This is West Virginia’s team,” he said. “I know they’re New Orleans and Louisiana’s team too, but we’re happy to have them here.
“They’re a lot like West Virginia. They’ve been through a lot of adversity, but if you do the right thing and work hard, you can achieve anything, which is exactly what we’re trying to do here in West Virginia.”
Ihle’s only regret is that Greenbrier owner Jim Justice beat him to the punch at getting the Saints to come here.
“If I win re-election, I’m going to fight hard to get the Saints to come to our town,” he said.
Bill Bihler is another Saints/Mountain State booster.
Bihler, who came with about 15 members of the Maxwell Hills Baptist Church in Beckley, West Virginia, said that the state a bad rap for its poverty and hillbilly image.
So there’s great pride in having the Saints come for a few weeks.
“What (Greenbrier owner) Jim Justice has done here is totally amazing,” he said. “He’s like a one-man stimulus package.
“It’s bad times here now because Obama and the EPA want to close all of the coal mines down. We’re hard-working, love the Lord folks who always find a way to make it one way or the other.”
At age 2, Dreu Desselles is too young to know that she’s named after Drew Brees. In fact, on this day, even though she’s wearing a No. 9 jersey, she’s more preoccupied with seeing how much catsup she can get on her hands instead of her french fries.
But her parents, Reggie and Courtney Desselles, Baton Rouge natives now living in Fort Meade, Maryland, where Courtney is stationed and Reggie is a Mr. Mom, are making sure she’s properly being introduced to the Black & Gold.
“We didn’t get to come last year, but we weren’t going to miss it this time,” Reggie Desselles said. “We’re die-hard Saints fans, and she’s going to be one too.
“And we want her to meet Drew. That way it would be Dreu and Drew.”
Regina Everett of Hagerstown, Maryland, was also hoping to meet Brees Sunday.
A Saints fan for about 15 years since she decided to root for a team nobody else much did, she developed a platonic crush on Brees after reading his book following the Saints Super Bowl victory.
“He’s so family-oriented, and then he and his wife have done so much to help change New Orleans,” Everett said. “He’s just the best.”
Everett’s fiancé, Andrew Barnhart, was with her Sunday, and he expressed no jealousy over the situation.
“I’m cool with it,” he said. “Just as long as there isn’t anyone else.”
Hope Bryant’s football career ended almost as quickly as it began Sunday.
Trying to run through the power blaster, the device designed to try to knock the ball from running backs’ arms — one of the several practice devices provided for kids — the 9-year-old from Shady Springs, West Virginia, took one of the arms in the eye. Luckily, Hope’s dad, Scott Bryant, was holding her glasses.
“I feel like I’ve got all kinds of bruises and stuff,” Hope said. “I’m not going to try it again.
“Football players must get hurt a lot.”
Not all of the fans here Sunday were from the area.
The Guidry family of Luling decided to extend a visit to the University of Alabama for daughter Megan, a senior at Dominican who is considering going there, into a short vacation at the Greenbrier, as well for Bob Guidry, wife Debbie and son Max.
“My wife loves resorts, and I love golf and football,” Bob Guidry said. “But I got her to agree to go before she found out how much time I was going watch the Saints practicing.”
So has it been worth it?
“Absolutely,” Bob said. “The weather is so much nicer here.”
And, Bob, how do the Saints look to you?
“We’re diehard Saints fans since they were around, so we’re always optimistic. As long as you’ve got Drew Brees, you’ve got a chance.
“We’ve had a couple of down years, but we’re going to be OK.”
And if not?
Well, there’s always the scenery around here.