The atmosphere is electric in my living room as I type this, hands quivering slightly, heart racing. I'm about to change my life, and that of millions of others. One Man's Free Agent Journey is at an end, soon to be replaced by One Man's Weird Feelings on Sunday Afternoons and the Occasional Monday.
Here with me today (at least in spirit) are representatives of the Patriots (Rob Gronkowski, obviously), Texans (Jonathan Grimes, recently added to Houston's practice squad), Saints (Sean Payton, because he's got nothing better to do), and Colts (my man Jim Irsay, who's spitting beat poetry to my bewildered cat). Irsay brought me another tie, and a giant bottle of milk from the Indianapolis 500. Payton came bearing a Bayou Philly from Cooter Brown's and a Thermos full of Sazeracs. Grimes, since he's so young, didn't think to bring anything, but he gave me some Tribe love, which was nice. And Gronk, as I'm sure you could've guessed, came accompanied by strippers. Had to send the kids to bed early.
Enough with the preliminaries, then. Let's do this. The first two teams eliminated are:
New England Patriots
The Pats were my team by birthright, the squad I first followed. Boston is my ancestral home, and while the Patriots were always a distant fourth behind the Red Sox, Celtics, and Bruins in the family pecking order, we still rooted for them. Steve Grogan was my first favorite football player - I had an awesome action figure in his likeness, complete with fully articulated arms and legs (not neck, though, so it wasn't a completely accurate rendering).
I moved to the D.C. area in the autumn of 1983, just in time for Riggo's run to glory. I'd never lived in an NFL town before, and I was swept up in the excitement. For almost 30 years. I remained fond of the Patriots, rooting for them in each of their Super Bowl appearances, but they weren't my team.
But as much as I love Boston, and despite my ties to the franchise, becoming a Patriots fan at this point in history would be the worst kind of front-running. So, apologies to my grandparents, but this prodigal son's not returning.
Gary Kubiak's squad has a lot going for it. A distinctly upward trend. A superstar running back with a unique approach to life in Arian Foster. W&M's own Grimes. The league's best logo. My man Matt Schaub, possessor of a fantasy football championship ring courtesy of my inspired leadership.
But I'm compelled by all the negative press the Houston metro area has received in these parts over the past few days. I've been to Houston. I was not impressed by Houston. Houston was both hot as fuck and not terribly interesting.
But I do like the logo.
And that leaves us with the Indianapolis Colts and the New Orleans Saints. Let's break this down, tale of the tape style, into the categories I've loosely and capriciously tossed around during the decision-making process:
The Colts' blue and white is clean, crisp, and simple, while New Orleans' black and gold is a bit more prepared to party. It's as if the togs mirror their respective cities.
Edge: Push, either is light years better than burgundy and gold.
Steve Gleason's story is the stuff of a Brian's Song remake - an amazingly sad and touching thing.
Meanwhile, the Colts counter with the opportunity to root for Andrew Luck from the ground floor. But after him and Dwight Freeney, badass supreme, there's not much to latch onto. Coby Fleener is fun to say, as is Mewelde Moore. Reggie Wayne and Adam Vinatieri are pros' pros. The needle isn't moving much, though.
Edge: Saints, though as Clarence noted earlier, basing this exercise on today's players is a great way to ensure we'll be doing it again in a few years, much to Jerry's glee.
Irsay's hard not to love (though don't say that anywhere near Charm City). He's equal parts hippie, musician, comedian, raconteur, and businessman. He brings loads of personality and far more importantly, clearly loves his team, his town, and his fans.
New Orleans' Tom Benson is a daft, dancing, whackadoodle with an equally clear love for his team, but he loses a lot of points for his post-Katrina semi-threats to relocate the Saints.
For the longest time, the Saints were one of the lowliest franchises in all of professional sports. From their inception in 1967 until 2000, they won exactly as many playoff games as G:TB did. The 1980 team lost its first 14 games, prompting fans to wear paper bags over their heads in shame at being 'Aint's' fans. The 21st Century has clearly been kinder to New Orleans, with the arrival of Brees in 2006 heralding a new era, capped by a Super Bowl win in 2009. I confess that this recent success gives me some pause, but it is tempered by the fact that my fictional Saints fan backstory will predate the championship.
The current incarnation of the Colts was birthed in infamy, carried by Mayflower vans from the bosom of Baltimore's loyal rooters. But the Peyton Manning era was certainly one of the more prolific in league history, and though the team only won a single title, their status as an elite team was sustained for a decade. Right up until last season. Which offers an intriguing opportunity for the prospective new fan.
Edge: Don't pressure me. This is hard.
Once again, Indy offers up Luck, while the Saints counter with the possibility of an epic 'us against the world' run that could culminate this season in the first ever home field Super Bowl.
Edge: Saints - I'm looking for instant payback on this new investment. Luck's a long play, while the possibility of Roger Goodell having to hand Drew Brees the Lombardi Trophy (let's not kid ourselves, Benson would totally do that for the 'fuck you' value) is almost too awesome to contemplate.
Hoo, boy. Many of you argued that the city itself was a critical component in this process. I honestly hadn't really considered that point until you raised it.
I had a great time in my only visit to Indianapolis some 20 years ago. I don't remember all that much about it, but I do recall it being friendly, easy to navigate, and fun.
But I had one of the Hall of Fame weekends of my life in New Orleans. It's fucking New Orleans, man. The best food in the world. The best and most sustained party in the world, non-Rio de Janeiro division. The most laissez faire people in the world - or the most laissez les bon temps roulez people in the world. Your choice.
Edge: Saints. Duh.
Until two days ago, I was convinced the Colts were my new team. I already have Colts gear, courtesy of Jim Irsay. I was into the Andrew Luck thing. Honestly, I wasn't even thinking about the Saints. And then I started thinking about the Saints.
The only negative, and it's not really even a negative, is the fact that the Saints' recent success and strong prospects opens me to charges of bandwagonry. But I'd argue that nobody's really jumping on New Orleans' bandwagon. In fact, in the wake of Bountygate, people are writing them off. They've almost got the whiff of the underdog about them. Certainly, they're a great story.
And, as a really smart fellow once said, it's fucking New Orleans, man.
Oh, and the Saints' Week One opponent? The Washington Redskins.
It almost feels like fate.