Monday, January 25, 2010

Sportswriter/Mom

So January 24, 2010 will go down in history.

It will be the day that WE WON.

It will be the day that one player scored the game-winning points in the final minutes of the game.

And it will be the day her mom will never forget.

It has been a rough season for the Norco 7-8-year-old girls basketball team.

The team with the girls who look like they should have driver's licenses beat us 19-0.

The team with the coach's kid who plays like a boy (yes I said it) and shoots NBA 3-pointers at 8 beat us twice. Yesterday they beat us 20-4.

And walking out of the gym with my arm over her shoulders, I did my best to convince my soon-to-be 9-year-old daughter that having fun and loving the game are more important than winning. Sometimes teams are just better, I said.

And today, she got up and put on her uniform and went back out on the court with a smile on her face.

We're not a bad team. We have girls who can dribble. We have girls who can shoot. And we have a 4-foot-8 1/2 soon-to-be 9-year old that other teams guard like white on rice. The problem is, we can't pass. Or catch.

And the big girl -- they call her The Shaq -- stands on her spot and patiently waits for someone to throw her the ball. But nobody does. And if they do, she's likely not to see it anyway. And if a reboundable ball comes her way, it's just as likely to hit her on the head as on the hands. It did today, anyway.

But as the final minutes were ticking off and Norco was trailing 4-3, a ball bounced off the rim and hit her hands. Her hands closed on the ball. And after just a moment's hesitation, she remembered what she was supposed to do.

Shoot it.

And she did.

And it went in.


And her mother stood up and screamed like a fool.

Running back up the court to find her defensive position, she looked up at me in the stands and smiled. Big. She was so happy. She was too far away to see the tears in my eyes, but knowing me the way she does, she knows they were there.

And then her father and I clutched each other and prayed that the other team would not score.

They did not.

We won the game.

She won the game.

And the smile on her face was huge as she accepted high-fives from her friends and her coaches and the other parents.

But it was nothing compared to mine.

Pigs are flying, Hell has frozen over and the Saints are in the Super Bowl

It was a long time coming.

Too long.

Some said it never would happen. Some believed it had to -- eventually.

And millions of us waited. And hoped. And, yes, prayed.

For 43 years Saints fans young and old, black and white, rich and poor, have lived and breathed and bled for the Black and Gold -- living for the good times and dying a little at each and every bad time.

We agonized through the humiliating defeats where we never had a chance and the games that gave us hope only to slip away in the final minutes. We learned to hate the Atlanta Falcons and the Dallas Cowboys and the San Francisco 49ers who sank daggers in our hearts so many times.

And yet we continued to watch, continued to hope, continued to love and continued to buy tickets. Like the puppy kicked every week by its owner, we always came back for more. Some wore bags over their heads to do it, but still they came back.

Because we believed.
Because our parents and grandparents believed and taught us how.

So when Garrett Hartley's 40-yard field goal split the uprights to give the Saints a 31-28 victory over Brett Favre and the Minnesota Vikings in the NFC championship game and propel the Saints into Super Bowl XLIV, the citizens of New Orleans sent up a joyous noise to the heavens.

And we shouted out to the grandfathers and fathers and brothers and sisters and aunts and uncles and friends and neighbors and local media personalities who did not live long enough to see this day, and who won't be with us on our sofas in two weeks to watch the New Orleans Saints play in their very first Super Bowl. The one that so many thought our team would never get to.

We so wish they were here to see it. We so wish we were here to share it. We so wish we could hear them say, "Who Dat?" just once more.