Thursday, everything changes. The Superdome lights dim. A banner drops. The Who Dat nation is transformed.
From pitiful to powerful. Long-suffering to non-suffering. Wannabes to wildebeests.
But don't kid yourself, New Orleans Saints fans. This won't be easy. We've been lovable losers for a long time. After 43 years below sea level -- literally and figuratively -- it can be dizzying to suddenly find yourself cheering from such lofty heights. Seventy-thousand people fainting will not create the hostile environment Coach Sean Payton is counting on when the Minnesota Vikings come to town for Thursday's nationally televised, prime-time kickoff to the 2010 National Football League season.
So it's important to get your mind right. The Aints ain't dere no more. We are now officially fans of the (ahem) Defending Super Bowl Champions. And we must prepare ourselves accordingly.
Herewith, five tips to ease your transition to the new Who Dat normal.
1. Don't change your underwear.
Or your socks, your shoes, your shirt, or anything else you wore on Feb. 7, 2010. Whatever game-day routine you followed for the playoffs and Super Bowl, follow it again. Same pre-game meal. Same parking spot. Same seat on the sofa. Same spouse -- if you were divorced during the off-season, I'm sorry, you have 48 hours to reconcile.
And for the last time, if you chew gum, it's Juicy Fruit, not bleepin' Spearmint!
2. Parade after the season, not before.
With all due respect to the NFL ... a victory parade for a team that is 0-0? Really? Isn't that like going on your honeymoon before the first date?
Nice gesture, but the reality is that on game day, True Dats only want to be one of three places: in front of a TV; inside the Dome; or outside the Dome, wishing they were inside.
Same goes for the pre-game concert in Jackson Square. Nothing against Taylor Swift and the Dave Matthews Band. It's just that these sorts of slickly produced, made-for-TV concerts, with their carefully rehearsed audiences and crowd control wristbands, lack some essential New Orleans mojo.
We're not a follow-the-script kind of town. We're an onside-kick-to-start-the-second-half-of-the-Super-Bowl kind of town. Do something crazy and unexpected and let a little magic happen. No wristbands required.
Better idea: TiVo the festivities and join the impromptu parade up and down Poydras Street, where you'll probably find some old guy with a trumpet playing "When the Saints Go Marching In" while strangers in Saints jerseys dance like lovers on the sidewalk. It's hard to imagine Taylor Swift's new single topping that.
3. Be nice to Paw-Paw (not).
Trust me, my smack-talking brethren, I know how tempting it is to make wisecracks about how Brett Favre is the only NFL player who wears a Depends jockstrap, how the federal government agreed to refund his entire 2010 salary to the Vikings as part of the Cash for Clunkers program, how he wears a tiara in the locker room so his head coach remembers to genuflect, etc.
But that's not Super Bowl Champion talk. That's Sore Loser talk. That's almost as bad as, "No fair! You hit our quarterback too hard!" Or, "Wait a minute! Our quarterback didn't get to play in overtime, you need to change the rules!"
We're better than that. Brett Favre has never done anything to deserve an ungracious welcome from New Orleans Saints fans. He's a warrior (diva), and a Hall of Famer (in the Drama Queen Hall of Fame). We should greet him with all the respect he deserves (boo him till your lungs melt).
And as soon as the referees start treating him like a Faberge egg, making "blow to the ankle" a 15-yard penalty, flagging every defender who so much as breathes hard on his Pennzoil-injected joints, and otherwise indulging seven months of the Viqueens' whiny-baby roughing-the-geezer complaints, let him really hear it.
4. Ignore the cliches.
You know what I'm talking about -- the talking points that coaches and players trot out after a big win to help them keep it real. These directives do NOT apply to us.
Cliche No. 1: "Forget about last season."
Why? So we can remember the Russell Erxleben era?
The memory of last season is the cure for a 40-year case of football fatalism. "Here we go again" is now, "Hey, no problem." "Wait till next year" is now, "Wait till the next play." "I can't bear to look" is now, "Cool. We got this."
Bagheads are then. Super Bowl rings are now.
Cliche No. 2: "Act like you've been there before."
This is how coaches keep exuberant players from getting carried away, but it doesn't apply to New Orleanians. There's no excessive celebration penalty for cities; if there were, they'd have shut this place down centuries ago.
Les bons temps rouler is in our DNA. We're genetically incapable of acting like we've been there before. If we approached these moments with more restraint, more circumspection, more maturity, we'd be ... Minnesotans.
So, if some killjoy starts blabbing about how "even if we win another Super Bowl it'll never be as special as the last one," just tell him this:
True love always feels like the first time.
And then invite him to see for himself on Sunday, Feb. 6, 2011, at Cowboys Stadium in Dallas, site of Super Bowl XLV.
5. Blow the lid off the joint.
Just like we always do. Because some things should never change.
Two Dat, baby.
Black & goldly yours,
Mark Lorando, Who Dat
Revision: For our readers who might have missed it ... "As originally published in the New Orleans Times-Picayune"