I lived in New Orleans. It is a phenomenal place. The food, the weather, the women are all first rate. What was the only drawback of this humid Utopia? Saints fans. There are an inordinate amount of Saints fans in the area. Go figure. I lived across from (and worked at) the Mercedes Benz Superdome for the duration of my stay there. I saw the rabid support of the home team at its annoying pinnacle during the 2009-2010 NFL season that saw the franchise win its only Super Bowl title. The brick and cobblestone streets Herculean efforts to hold the swell of pride of the back-to-back Super Bowl title/Mardi Gras parties was only matched by my nausea at everyone else’s glee.
Even more upsetting was the annual “rivalry” game the Saints had against the Falcons in the city. I’d hear all about how the best rivalry in the NFC South was coming to town, and “what a treat I was in for”. While I was new to the city, I wasn’t new to the divisional football landscape. I knew about the Saints turnaround from consistent bottom-dweller to offensive juggernaut, but the idea that there had been some rival upheaval and I was unaware seemed unlikely.
Fast forward to years later and I’m still hearing the same song. So I did some investigating. Here are the win/loss records of the Saints, Falcons, and the Panthers in their respective series from the past 10 years.
|Carolina Panthers||New Orleans Saints||11-9||Panthers|
|Carolina Panthers||Atlanta Falcons||9-11||Falcons|
|New Orleans Saints||Atlanta Falcons||14-6||Saints|
The simple fact of the matter is that the Saints and Panthers, or Panthers and Falcons series have produced much more exciting conclusions. Even this year will have the Atlanta and Carolina squaring off in week 17 to wrap up the regular season. That game could produce large fireworks and have huge implications for the postseason. A diet of tight, important games builds the body of a rivalry.
I love a good rivalry. I’m from Raleigh, NC. Duke and UNC basketball have produced the best rivalry in all of sports. It is my respect for the sanctity of rivalries that led me to research why the word was being thrown around with such reckless abandon regarding the relationship between the franchises of Atlanta and New Orleans. The Falcons and Saints rivalry has much less to do with the product on the field, and more about the acrimony between the two cities. Both cities are (obviously) in the south, and both like to fashion themselves as the cornerstones of culture below the Mason-Dixon line.
I’ve asked my friends from both cities (the large number I have from both places is an indication of a serious character flaw on my part) why they considered it such a heated rivalry even without the on-field product supporting it. Their response was insightful and heartbreaking. While my friends acknowledged that the rivalry was mostly hype, they felt empowered by the hostility present between the cities.
A rivalry is not simply an expressed animosity. Familiarity may breed contempt, but it doesn’t birth a rivalry. Words have meaning, and I’m drawing a line in the sand at “rivalry”.