I keep hearing from plenty of readers around here that this is still Rams’ Country. Part of it might have to do with the fact that the L.A. Rams — who played in St. Louis for about two decades — once used the local university as their training camp from 1949-60.
A few months ago:
It was raining, hard, on June 18, afternoon hours, as my Uber driver, Shystelle, arrived at Louis Armstrong Airport. It’s just outside New Orleans. She was quiet and helpful. Somber, even.
Somber, that is, until we passed the Superdome. It’s right there along Interstate 10. It’s the same I-10 that takes Highland roadies past Base Line, Fifth and onto eastbound turnoffs like Ford Street, University, Tennessee, California, even Wabash, plus Orange Street, Alabama and even the far reaches of Yucaipa Boulevard.
The Superdome is home of the New Orleans Saints, which is the team that got robbed of a Super Bowl berth via a disastrous non-call in last January’s NFC Championship against the visiting Los Angeles Rams.
“Our family,” said Shystelle, “has had season tickets to the Saints since I was eight.”
I refused to ask Shystelle how old she was, but she’s got a “little guy” who loves the New Orleans Pelicans, who had just dealt Anthony Davis to Los Angeles ⎯ the Lakers, not the Rams. That “little guy” is four.
I’m telling you right now, folks, there’s not a single family around Highland that has 20 season tickets to the Rams. Those are true fans. Shystelle is an NFL blue blood.
Told her I’m from SoCal.
Shystelle said, “So you’re a Rams’ fan?”
I could feel the tension building inside her Honda Pilot. I didn’t want anything to do with this. Not a Rams’ fan. They’re deserters. If I’d copped to that, there wouldn’t have been enough time for Highland-area emergency responders to jump onto I-10 to save my life. It’s a long way from Base Line to downtown New Orleans along that route.
But I dazzled her with a little NFL history.
Remember when Drew Brees was QB for the San Diego Chargers?
The Chargers, who drafted Philip Rivers, tried to deal Brees to the Miami Dolphins. Brees was coming off right shoulder surgery. In his physical, Miami’s team doctor Rick reported Brees’ shoulder wouldn’t hold up. San Diego dealt him to the struggling Saints.
Miami, led by All-Pro linebacker Jason Taylor, had one of the fiercest defenses in pro football. Its coach was none other than Nick Saban, current coach at college football power Alabama. He was Dolphins’ coach in 2005-2006, having just arrived from Louisiana State University, which is near New Orleans.
Think of this: Saban’s Dolphins had such QB wonders as Gus Frerotte, Marcus (not Michael) Vick, Sage Rosenfels, Joey Harrington and even made a deal to acquire Daunte Culpepper. Saban nearly had Brees.
Brees, Saban and Miami’s defense would’ve started more than a decade of football wars in that AFC East with Bill Belichick and Tom Brady, who’ve been baiting us with New England powerhouse teams ever since.
In Saban’s first season, the Dolphins improved from 4-12 to 9-7, beating two-time defending Super Bowl champion New England to cap a six-game winning streak ⎯ without a strong QB like Brees.
New Orleans’ NFL team, the Saints, meanwhile, was so bad that many pro football writers were predicting that team would turn up in L.A. ⎯ especially after Hurricane Katrina destroyed that region.
It’s enough to make anyone jump from the NFL back to college football, which is what Saban did.
No top-flight QB? No respectable NFL team.
Okay, Shystelle? If Miami’s team doctor had okayed Brees’ shoulder, New Orleans might not even have an NFL team.
But football history would’ve been rewritten. Then-Florida coach Urban Meyer might’ve stuck around since the Crimson Tide might not have brought in Saban.
No Alabama dynasty.
Brees-Saban vs. Brady-Belichick continuing into 2019.
No new NFL stadium in L.A. ⎯ probably.
The Chargers might still be in San Diego.
Finally, there’d have been no L.A.-New Orleans pass interference dispute to rave about in 2019.
(Got a sports tip? Want to talk sports. Email to firstname.lastname@example.org)