The thought that the Atlanta Falcons could potentially be the NFC's representative in the New Orleans-hosted Super Bowl really didn't set in for me as a nightmare that actually could come true until the 13th week of the NFL season, when the New Orleans Saints played their rival in Atlanta on a Thursday after being welcomed to the city by egg-hurling Hartsfield-Jackson airport employees the previous night.
"Man, I haven't given this a lot of thought, but how awful would it be if the Falcons made it to the Super Bowl in New Orleans," I said to a friend between Drew Brees' fourth and fifth interceptions as we watched the game in a bar. The look he returned in response was not unlike the look he'd likely flash if I'd told him that Charles Manson had been paroled and was looking at property in his neighborhood.
When I brought it up with other friends, their reactions were equally horrified, along the lines of, "Oh God, I don't want to even think about that," and "No ... just no," and "I feel like you just told me that my wife might be having an affair with my boss."
By that point in the season the Falcons were 10-1, well on their way to locking up home field advantage throughout the playoffs. Their only loss came at the hands of the Saints in a particularly unhinged Superdome earlier in the year, so it's not as if the Falcons playing for the championship in the Superdome was beyond possibility. In fact, the chances of the Falcons — at the time sporting the best record in the NFL — making it all the way to the Super Bowl were quite good.
Nevertheless, it was a possibility that my friends and I — and I suspect scores of other Saints fans — effectively had blocked from our minds altogether. We simply couldn't bring ourselves to entertain such a ghastly scenario, so we repressed the thought of the Dirty Birds and their fans invading New Orleans to a place deep within our collective subconsciousness, much like a person who dreads going to the dentist might do when they first feel pain after biting into something.
Part of the reason for this is Saints fans have looked forward to the 2012-2013 season since the day it was announced New Orleans would host this season's Super Bowl. We were convinced that the Black and Gold would be the first NFL team to participate in a Super Bowl it was hosting. Bountygate poured cold water on our optimism, but we still believed it could happen and we held out hope as long as we could. "If they can just get in as a wild card, they can go on a run and make it to the Super Bowl in the Dome, and Oh my God, it's going to be soooo awesome," was a dream of every Who Dat.
Not until that Thursday night game in Atlanta did it become painfully apparent that, barring a minor mathematical miracle and the answered prayers of every nun in Tom Benson's skybox, all of those dreams would come crumbling down. Even worse than the Saints not playing in a Super Bowl in New Orleans was the fact that the Falcons — the freaking Falcons — might be there instead. The unsettling possibility that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell might actually hand the Lombardi Trophy to Falcons owner Arthur Blank in the Dome became a cause for panic, the icing on the crap cake that was the Saints' 2012 season.
And so it was that we all found ourselves placing our collective psychological well-being in the hands of a team coached by Pete Carroll, a man I'm sure, if he were to have a near-death experience, would, upon his return to lucidity, testify to seeing towering flames on the other side rather than bright white lights. Carroll and his Seattle Seahawks failed to deep-fry the Dirty Birds, but they almost did! Almost. Along the way Fox's cameras caught Carroll appearing to lie about having called a timeout to ice his kicker. It didn't work, just as it never does, and Atlanta kicker Matt Bryant drilled a field goal to win the game. In the end, we gained nothing by pulling for Carroll, but we all lost a little bit of dignity. It's the price you pay, I guess.
The following week brought the NFC Championship game against the San Francisco 49ers, a team that, under different circumstances, would be about as welcome in New Orleans as a citywide bed bug infestation. A friend even likened cheering for the 49ers to beat the Falcons to pulling for Hamas to beat the Taliban. Considering it was San Francisco that stood between the Falcons and the Super Bowl, however, most of us allowed ourselves to be raving 49ers fans for one day. Hell, I would've considered getting a tattoo of Jim Harbaugh's face on my ass if the Devil had come to me and promised to keep the Falcons out of the playoffs if I did. Harbaugh's mug on my derriere wasn't necessary, as the 49ers beat the Saints' archrival. As soon as the game was over, my phone exploded with texts from friends, most of whom I know as religiously agnostic, who seemed to have suddenly found God.
"Thank you, Jesus!"
And so on.
So now we won't have to get worked up about Roddy White dining at Bubba Gump and then tweeting about how New Orleans food is overrated. We won't have to see a clip of a fedora-clad "Matty Ice" kicking it with Channing Tatum at Saints and Sinners on Entertainment Tonight. We won't have to hear about how Atlanta fans in town for the game are upset about having to drive to Metairie or the West Bank to find an Olive Garden, Chili's or an Applebees. Best of all, we won't have to worry about watching Goodell hand the Lombardi to a freshly spray-tanned Blank inside our Superdome.
Instead, Atlanta fans can tuck away in their closets the Julio Jones jerseys they bought last week, and Saints fans can turn our attention to pulling for the Baltimore Ravens over the 49ers in the Harbaugh Bowl, because screw the 49ers.
— Brett Michael Dykes (aka Cajun Boy) is a New York Times contributor, editor-in-chief of Uproxx.com and a lifelong Saints fan.