My relationship with the New Orleans Saints is uncomplicated. I’m a fan. Lifelong, or at least since I realized somewhere around age 8 that American football is manly and cool, and that Louisiana has a team all its own. Archie Manning was a Manning before the Mannings were the Mannings, if you know what I mean. His career record with the Saints is 35-91-3. Technically, Archie was a loser. I didn’t see it that way. When I was a boy I had Saints pajamas, which were neither manly nor cool.

I don’t mind the masses climbing onto the bandwagon; it’s a big part of why the team is The Independent’s 2009 Newsmaker of the Year. Many of the bandwagoners are no doubt newly minted, dazzled and quite possibly duped by this remarkable season. Many others most certainly are fair weather fans, the summer soldiers who pack it in when the team goes cold, or at the first sign of adversity. And there will be adversity. How can there not? I’ve been a Saints fan long enough to know the answer to that question.

The Saints have been the fuel that powered the flight of more television remote controls than I care to recount, and the binding agent between the words “damn” and “it.” I lived through the Aints era and all the botched plays and second-rate players and woulda-coulda-shouldas. I’m long enough in the tooth to remember “The Snake,” Kenny Stabler, close out his career in the Superdome on nothing but busted knees and pride, and that unshakable Saints mediocrity doom the coaching careers of Bum Phillips and Mike Ditka (and Tom Fears and J.D. Roberts and John North and Hank Stram and Dick Nolan). For almost 20 unbroken years, the Superdome was a coaches’ graveyard. The photo of running back Ricky Williams, who in ’99 the Saints bankrolled an entire draft on, in a wedding dress beside Ditka the groom on the cover of ESPN magazine was one of my lowest moments as a Saints fan. It was embarrassing. The team went 3-13 that year, and Ditka was gone.

The Saints fielded their first team during my first year of life and didn’t post a winning season until I was 20, and that team was dispatched in the first round of the playoffs. It’s been an agonizing journey.

And something happened that first winning season — 1987, a 12-3 season. A players’ strike knocked a game off the schedule, and the Saints’ record knocked the “lovable loser” attitude out of our heads. Thereafter we expected success. It tasted pretty good, and we wanted Mora. We were a collective stray dog that had been fed, but though we returned to the back door, the bowl was usually empty, leaving more than our stomachs growling. The Saints’ record since that first taste of success is 173-176, including three miserable campaigns of 3-13 and two 6-10 stinkers.

So, to all you bandwagoners I say welcome. Climb aboard. It’s a little crowded right now, but I know that’ll change. I still refuse to talk about the Super Bowl or 16-0 or, heaven forbid, 19-0 and the Super Bowl. But at this point, it’s impossible not to acknowledge this magical season. As I wrote in an earlier INDsider blog, let’s enjoy the feast, but never forget the famine.

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