My high school reunion was this past weekend. Out of the small class of 51, about 30 showed up with their spouses, girlfriends, boyfriends etc. We did the standard, voting on "Least Changed Boy/Girl", "Most Changed Boy/Girl."
Physically, most of us hadn't changed that much. Maybe we're a few pounds heavier or lighter, maybe our hair is a little darker/lighter/thinner/gone. Maybe we dress a little nicer or carry ourselves with a little more seriousness now that we're legitimate members of the tax paying world. But it was easy to see the star athlete, the nerd, the cheerleader, the class president inside these almost 30 year old men and women.
But fundamentally, we are all different. The ten years that have passed since we walked across the stage for graduation have changed us. We're wiser, less naive, maybe a little jaded, definitely more focused on our goals than on our popularity or social standing. We make adult decisions everyday: which bill to pay and which to let slide, whether to take the higher paycheck or the larger benefit package, to have a baby now, or hold off until we're a little more financially stable. We've largely let go of the petty misunderstandings and differences that kept us from being friendly ten years ago. We've grown up.
Sunday afternoon I watched another group and realized the same can be said of them. They don't make the silly mistakes that have held them back in the past. They aren't worried about beauty contests or which clique they're supposed to be seen with. They show up everyday and make adult decisions. They work hard and are focused on their long-term goals. The New Orleans Saints have grown up.
We heard rumors about this growth in training camp. That this year, things were different. Things have been different before. Things were different when we got Archie Manning. Things were different when we drafted Ricky Williams. Things were different when Jim Haslett was focusing on defense. Things were different when Reggie Bush arrived. But suddenly, things really are different.
The Saints I grew up with would have lost the game at Philly. The tears we Saints fans have cried over big early leads blown by sloppy defensive play could fill the Superdome.
The Saints I grew up with would have lost the game at Buffalo. Take away Drew Brees and all our receivers? That has always equaled a loss.
The Saints I grew up with would have crumbled against the expectations of 4-0. The mighty Giants behind the golden arm of Manning the Younger would have laid us low, and reminded us why we're the 'Aints, not Championship contenders.
The Saints I grew up with would have laid down after that terrible start last night. 4 interceptions from Brees? 4??? Fumbles galore? The complete inability to handle this Wildcat offense that the national media is so enamored with? We should have been done.
But we weren't. With Saints "fans" jumping off the bandwagon by the dozens, Drew Brees told his head coach to put it on him. To put up or shut up. Payton gave him a chance, and Brees put up. He put his money (and his golden arms) where his mouth was and got into the endzone. The bandwagon jumpers slowed a bit, uneasy at this continued attempt at victory. But most of 'em kept jumping off.
Then the real change in the Saints showed itself. The defense, long the laughing stock of the NFL (and professional sports as a whole) stood tough. The Saints lauded offense sputtered, and the defense stood strong. Cutting drives short, forcing field goals instead of TD's and even scoring themselves when Brees and the offense couldn't get it done.??
Darren Sharper is easy to point to as the difference, and Holy Moses knows he's a major one, but it extends through the rest of the secondary, the linebacking corp, the defensive line and into the special teams. We've now got leaders, real leaders on both sides of the ball. Men who don't accept failure as an option. Men who don't know how to lay down. Men who will win, if they can get others to follow them.
The Saints have grown up. And I'm gonna follow them all the way to February and another trip to Miami. Are you with us?