Saints fan reflects on NFC championship

Published 11:59 pm Thursday, February 4, 2010

NATCHEZ — Tony Byrne isn’t going to Miami to watch his beloved New Orleans Saints play in the Super Bowl.

But that’s OK, because the former longtime Natchez mayor has already witnessed his Super Bowl, when the Saints defeated the Minnesota Vikings in the NFC Championship Game on Jan. 24.

“I have seen my Super Bowl, and it was when they won the (NFC) championship,” Byrne said. “It was crazy in the dome. After we won, nobody left the stadium, everyone was celebrating.”

The victory was sweet for all Saints fans, but perhaps even more so for Byrne, who has been a fan of the team since its inception in 1967 and has season tickets that date back to that year.

He also served on the Saints fan advisory board from 2000-2005.

Byrne used to have four season tickets, but gave up two of them when he couldn’t find anyone to go to the games with him.

“When (Mike) Ditka was the coach there, we’d ask friends about going to New Orleans and they said we’d love to go but don’t make us go to the Saints game,” Byrne said. “So I gave up two of the tickets.”

But the time that Byrne has spent as a loyal supporter of the team makes this Super Bowl season more special to him than to someone who just jumped on the Saints bandwagon when the team started winning.

“You know what the old time Saints fans call the new Saints fans? Latter day Saints,” Byrne joked. “I’ve been through the ups and downs and thank goodness we’ve got some ups now.”

The Miss-Lou as well as other places around the South has been in full Saints euphoria the past two weeks, and Byrne said there is a couple of reasons for that.

“No. 1, it is fun to go to New Orleans,” Byrne said. “No. 2, we didn’t have a pro team in the area. Most of us followed the Chicago Bears because of Joe Fortunato. When we got our own team, everybody fell in love with the Saints. Good or bad, we just stuck with them.”

And the return of the team to New Orleans after the devastation of Hurrricane Katrina only intensified those fans’ feelings.

“When they came back after Katrina, there was an entirely different feeling for Saints fans, including me,” Byrne said. “I was there for the game that reopened the Superdome and it was great. Ever since then, diehard Saints fans have taken the Saints to be the salvation of New Orleans.”

And while Byrne won’t be attending the Super Bowl in person, he will instead be content to watch it on television.

“I’ll sit in front of the TV, take the phone off the hook and watch it to the end,” Byrne said. “Hopefully I’ll see a victory. I’m predicting the Saints win 38-31. But either way, it’s been a long time coming.”