Finding fortune in loss: It's painful to watch the defeat of the Saints, but the shared experience in this French Quarter bar softens the blow.
- by Layth Sihan
- photos by Ellis Anderson
The concept of luck is a recurring mental theme, and I have questions about it. Is luck real? Are certain people lucky? If so, does that mean another person is equally unlucky?
I think the answer to all of the above is “no.”
Luck is a way of seeing the world. It’s a perspective that focuses on the fortunate turn while leaving out other factors. The truth is that every turn of events, whether lucky or unlucky, is also a million other things that cannot be allocated to that simple binary.
In other words, what first appears to be lucky may not be lucky at all, and, of course, it goes the other way as well.
During the regular season, watching the Saints in New Orleans is an egalitarian and inclusive activity that unites every Who Dat. But energy ramps up when the playoffs arrive and fanhood is no longer intermediate. The playoffs have a way of turning even the most casual spectator into a fan. On game day, there’s a combination of palpable tension in the city air and something approaching civic responsibility.
During an afternoon at Longway Tavern (719 Toulouse Street), the New Orleans Saints battling the Minnesota Vikings in an NFC Wildcard game on a television set just over my head, I learn more about good fortune and bad – and something else about the playoffs. They have a way of creating community - maybe even unlikely community - and in that community there is something both transient and lasting.
Sean, the Longway restaurant manager, speaks to me while we watch. The reasons he gives for liking his job at Longway are the same ones a patron might name: the food and cocktails, the atmosphere, the convivial staff. I found out he had relocated to New Orleans over the summer. We talk about the usual stifling heat and humidity at that time of year. I remembered this year’s summer had been unseasonably cool. It was an aberration, and he’d been lucky to land here during a cool patch.
But by the time we start our conversation, the clock is already running out for the Saints. There is a little under five minutes left on the clock in the fourth quarter. They are down by a score, and the tension in the room has grown.
Brees drops back to throw, fumbles and the Vikings recover. I’m not devastated. None of the room is. We know the Saints have enough time to get a stop and score, and we also know that scoring too early in the fourth quarter when things are tight can be a very bad strategy.
With only two minutes to go, the Saints get a stop, and the offense goes back to work. After a long drive, the boys in black and gold are denied a touchdown and settle for a field goal. A make means overtime.
Lutz kicks, and it’s good, but he’s iced. The adrenaline courses through my veins.
Beyond the television, I can see one of the highlights of Longway - its courtyard, uncovered and lush, even in winter, with plenty of seating. It’s not hard to envision a summertime full house drinking wonderful cocktails, eating delicious food and enjoying the heat of the day tempered into the embrace of night.
Right now, there isn’t a soul out there.
The game stakes are heightened, and the demands of merely watching increase. During the playoffs, we allot significance to every second of the passing game clock. We do it in a sort of mutual compact with those around us. Whatever is taking place on the field is taking place right now.
We are either there in the moment, pressed to the screen, or we’re not. The choice is ours, but if we’re in the game, if we’ve made that jump to obsession. It is both a thrill ride and a real responsibility. Locking yourself into a playoff game means win or lose you will walk away feeling the result. Disappointment is an undeniable possibility.
Lutz kicks again, and again he makes it. The game is now tied at 20, and we’re headed to sudden death overtime. This means the first team to score a touchdown wins the game. The Vikings win the coin toss, and they begin their drive down the field.
Manon and Maria, two patrons at the bar, turn to watch. While they may have been more interested in chatting when they walked in, the pull of the game on-screen means for the moment Manon and Maria are now fans, and the nature of today’s game means they’re big fans.
Sean grabs the remote from down the bar and turns up the volume. The four of us watch in a huddle of temporary, rapt community. Kitchen staff filter out and fasten their gaze to the screen. Other bar patrons leave off conversation.
There’s no denying it. Whatever the outcome, no matter what happens on screen, we’re giving a bit of ourselves by choosing to accept an outcome that could sting a little.
The Vikings score on a Kyle Rudolph touchdown grab. There is a collective wince and groan. The words “Fuck off Kyle Rudolph!” shoot out of my mouth, and I surprise even myself. In the apprehension of the moment, no one even seems to hear me.
We wait, murmuring, for the call to be reversed, but it stands, and after a while, with my drink finished, I head towards the door. I wave goodbye to Sean, Mammon and Maria.
I am disappointed, but I don’t walk away from the Saints defeat feeling defeated myself. Instead, I walk away considering the shared and temporary raft of fanhood I’d been on for the duration of the match. Knowing that I’d opened myself up to community and shared experience was as much a thrill as the game itself. As I see it, I’d chosen the right place to watch the game.
I consider myself rather lucky.