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QBREES9 11-30-2009 09:25 AM

Drew Brees' mantra contains winning formula for New Orleans Saints
 
About a half-hour before kickoff at Monday night's game against the New England Patriots, the entire New Orleans Saints team will gather around quarterback Drew Brees in the south end zone of the Superdome.
Brees will address the team with a quick intro, then repeat the team's 2009 mission statements: "Be special," "Finish strong" and "Smell greatness." Then the team will break into a spirited count, alternating numbers -- "One! Two!" -- with the words "Win!" and "Again!" The count builds to a crescendo, stopping, ironically, at 10, when the Saints start repeating "Again! Again!" clasp hands and break the throbbing huddle.
Brees is notoriously secretive about the chant, a derivative of a Marine Corps running cadence he learned during a USO Tour visit to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. But it's meaning is clear: Win every game.
Amazingly, so far the Saints have.
The team is 10-0 for the first time in club history and is one of just 13 teams in the modern era of the NFL to go this far into a season unbeaten.
So far, nothing has deterred the Saints. Not a string of injuries. Not a 21-point deficit at Miami. Not preseason prognostications that universally slotted them third in the NFC South.
"We've got something special going here," Brees said. "We want to keep it going. You don't have many opportunities like this, and the window of opportunity for us is now."
You don't need to understand the details of Brees' chant to know the Saints are on a mission this season.
Some might find it a stretch to think rich NFL players are motivated by anything other than the decimal points on their paychecks, but there's clearly an intangible at work here. Something more meaningful appears to be in the Saints' huddle this season.
You see it on the weekends of road games, where Saints fans fill planes, hotel lobbies and the stands of visiting stadiums. That kind of passion normally is reserved for college football outposts such as Tuscaloosa, Ala., and State College, Pa. -- not the NFL.
You hear it in local grocery stores, where score updates from Saints games are announced to shoppers, and on the radio, where a new Who Dat song seems to be authored with every victory. That doesn't happen in Jacksonville or Buffalo.
And you see it at Atlantic Aviation in Kenner, where crowds in the thousands gather to welcome the Saints home after every road trip. After the exhilarating comeback win against the Dolphins, the throngs were so large it took some players two hours to navigate their vehicles through the gleeful masses down the 2-mile stretch of road. In Atlanta and Seattle, team officials don't have to erect metal barricades, hire security officers and issue news releases to control the crowds, as the Saints did last week after their win at Tampa Bay.
Gridiron crusade
The rest of the NFL is playing football. The Saints are waging some kind of gridiron crusade. They're playing not just for themselves, but for a city, region and fan base desperate for spiritual renewal.
"It's definitely something that we acknowledge, realize and think about," Brees said. "I think it just drives us to be that much better when you understand what winning on Sundays does for this community and for the rebuilding efforts and giving these people hope and uplifting the spirit of the city. It's important to them. Win or lose, they are going to support -- but, man, when you win, it gets a little crazy around here."
It will only get crazier if the Saints keep winning. In fact, some parts of the city are already starting to dream. The coaches and players might be taking it one game at a time, but the rest of the city isn't.
One Mardi Gras krewe has already canceled its parade scheduled for Feb. 7, Super Bowl Sunday. WWL-870, the team's flagship station, ran a news item recently about a Southwest Airlines sale on round-trip flights to Fort Lauderdale for the month of February. And Commander's Palace officials announced this week their plans to close the restaurant Feb. 7 if the Saints play in the big game.
"We understand it," linebacker Scott Shanle said. "We're trying to win a Super Bowl. A lot of people have been following the Saints their whole lives and have never seen this type of success. It would mean a lot to us, too, to win it for the city."
No place like home
The Saints say the added pressure doesn't burden them. It motivates them. At home games, the energy at the Superdome has become palpable.
Consequently, the Saints boast one of the best home-field advantages in the league. They have won 11 of their past 13 games at the Superdome. Only Atlanta has a better home record over the past two seasons. In that span, they Saints have averaged an eye-popping 34.3 points a game.
The deafening din of the Superdome has directly led to a pair of turnovers in wins against the Giants and Panthers this season, Saints players said.
Saints safety Darren Sharper, who has played in hostile environments like Green Bay and Minnesota during a stellar 13-year career, described the noise to New England media as "deafening."
"A guy could be pressing face masks with you," he said, "and you're yelling and he still can't hear you."
The city hasn't experienced this kind of fever since the Saints played in the 2006 NFC championship game in Chicago. Ten days before the game, reporters from the Chicago area asked then-Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois for his pick between the hometown Bears and the Cinderella Saints.
"I am happy for New Orleans," Obama said. "I think it's a wonderful story for their city, but this fairy tale ends when they come to Chicago."
Our nation's leader might have been wrong. The fairy tale didn't end on that chilly January Sunday in 2007. It just took a hiatus.


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