INDIANAPOLIS – Reggie Wayne remembers life growing up as a Saints fan.
People wore paper bags to games and those who didn’t go had to listen to radio broadcasts because of the league-imposed blackout when games aren’t sellouts. Wayne sat right there in the crowd, listening to every call and cheering for Bobby Hebert and John Fourcade and Eric Martin – names remembered by only the heartiest Saints fans.
Those tough days are now long gone.
Next week, Wayne, a New Orleans native, will line up against the Saints with a chance to win the Super Bowl.
“I had a lot of fun times growing up, being a Saints fan,” Wayne said Wednesday. “Just growing up as a kid, as a huge Saints fan, it was always black and gold.”
That was before Wayne collected his paycheque from the blue-and-white clad Colts.
Wayne isn’t the only Colts player with a soft spot for the Saints – or the city of New Orleans.
Four-time league MVP Peyton Manning was a New Orleans celebrity from the time he and his brothers played prep ball at Isidore Newman. Manning’s father, Archie, was the face of the Saints’ franchise in the bleak 1970s and early 1980s, when bags were the fashionable headgear, Aints was the trendy nickname and winning seasons weren’t even contemplated in The Big Easy.
Manning barely remembers those days, but he knows they were a stark contrast to what he witnessed after New Orleans’ beat Minnesota in overtime Sunday.
“I enjoyed seeing Bourbon Street being so empty in the third quarter and then seeing it post-game,” he said. “It was a sight to see.”
Their ties to Louisiana became even stronger after Hurricane Katrina hit in August 2005.
Manning and his younger brother, Eli, sent a plane full of supplies into the city to help. Wayne still recalls the trouble he had getting in touch with family members. Running back Joseph Addai, who won a national championship at LSU, was still attending college when the hurricane hit. The Houston native will never forget.
“We had to cancel our first game and had to use LSU as a place to bring some of the folks from New Orleans,” Addai said Wednesday while wearing an LSU basketball shirt. “Me, myself, my area was flooded. Two weeks without light, electricity, none of that stuff. So I can only imagine what it was like for the people of New Orleans. I feel like them getting to the Super Bowl is a good thing for them.”
Saints players, who were forced to practice in San Antonio and played home games in three locales during the 2005 season, returned to the city and assisted in relief efforts.
Reaching the Super Bowl, Manning believes, is a fitting tribute for the city.
“My dad’s been a part of the Saints organization for 39 years in some ways. We definitely have strong ties, and the New Orleans Saints players do just wonderful things for the community down there. They really do,” Manning said. “It’s been a great relationship between the players and fans, and what a great way for these players to reward them with a trip to the Super Bowl.”
The connections do not end with the Colts.
New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees still has a loyal fan base at Purdue, about an hour northwest of Indianapolis. Cornerback Tracy Porter, whose interception ended Minnesota’s last scoring chance in the NFC championship game, played college ball at Indiana, about an hour south of the Colts’ home.
Saints coach Sean Payton spent 1990 and 1991 as the quarterbacks coach at Indiana State, about an hour west of Indy and located in the same town, Terre Haute, where the Colts now hold training camp.
Even Colts owner Jim Irsay has a tie to the Saints. In 2008, when New Orleans was threatened by Hurricane Gustav, it was Irsay who offered the brand new Lucas Oil Stadium to the Saints as a temporary practice facility.
And in December, they were both undefeated, the league’s last two unbeaten teams.
Who would have thunk it?
Not Wayne, who now finds himself trying to beat his childhood favourite to earn a second Super Bowl ring.
“I had enough phone calls from back home to keep me on point with what they were doing,” Wayne said of the Saints’ run at perfection this season. “A lot of my friends are Saints fans. They were already putting us in the Super Bowl in Week 7, Week 6. My main focus was what was going on here. Now, it’s like my friends said back in Week 6, Colts versus Saints in the Super Bowl. May the best team win.”