Local Saints fans pleasantly surprised about 2009 team

Published 12:16 am Sunday, December 20, 2009

NATCHEZ — It’s a sight New Orleans Saints fans are not used to seeing: their team being this good this late in the season.

Even with a 24-17 loss to the Cowboys Saturday night, the Saints sit at 13-1 on the season, and need just another win and a Vikings loss to clinch home field advantage throughout the postseason.

For a fan base that has been used to angst its entire existence, the results on the field so far have given hope to many local fans that the Saints might go all the way this season.

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Sammy Atkins, owner of Andrew’s Tavern in downtown Natchez, said this is the first time in his life he’s felt this good about the Saints’ chances in January and February.

“I’ve been a Saints fan since I was a young boy,” Atkins said. “I probably went to my first game when I was 8. I always remember loving the Saints, but I always felt like they lacked something and that there were better teams. This year, I don’t feel that way.”

Yvonne Chatman, another local, said although she usually roots for another team, Natchez’s proximity to New Orleans and the fact that it’s home to many Saints fans have made her adopt a second team. Before the game against the Cowboys, Chatman said having split loyalties wasn’t a problem for her.

“I’m a Cowboys fan, but after living here, how can you not be a Saints fan,” Chatman said. “This is the Saints’ year. They’ve really turned that organization around.”

Chatman, who has been following the Saints all season, said the close calls New Orleans has had the last two weeks against Atlanta and Washington show just how good these Saints players are.

“These last few games, they’ve really been tested, and they’ve prevailed despite all the injuries,” she said.

“This team is destined. Drew Brees is doing a good job leading them and Sean Payton has them prepared game in and game out. He has them believing they can win.”

Chatman’s great nephew, Nia Chatman, agrees with his great aunt’s assessment that the team is well-coached.

“They show their preparation game in and game out,” Nia Chatman said. “The whole season’s been going well. Every since Brees and Payton came in, they’ve both showed good leadership.”

Harrison Burns, who graduated from Cathedral School last May, is now attending the University of Alabama, and he said many people in his fraternity are pulling for the Saints.

“Pretty much everybody’s jumped on the bandwagon,” Burns said.

Despite the Saints’ first loss of the season, Burns said he’s not sweating too badly.

“It’s not the end of the world. The Vikings still have two losses, so we’re still in the driver’s seat for home field advantage.”

Saints fans got a scare in the second quarter, when star all-purpose back Reggie Bush hurt his leg after a 16-yard reception.

“If he’s out (an extended period of time), it’d be a big loss, because of his playmaking abilities,” Burns said. “However, he missed three or four games earlier in the season already, and the Saints did fine. They have other guys who can step up.”