John McGrath: Fighting words don’t come easily in New Orleans-Seattle matchup

john.mcgrath@thenewstribune.comJanuary 11, 2014 

Seven days have passed since we learned Phase Two of the Seahawks’ Super Bowl quest would begin against the New Orleans Saints, and I’m still waiting for somebody to throw the first jab.

It’s a postseason tradition in any pro sport: A radio personality and/or newspaper columnist from the city representing one team recalls stereotypes about the city representing the opposing team, an insulting salvo is returned, and then a sort of regional-pride food fight ensues.

Seattle, for instance, usually is panned for its rainy climate, ubiquitous coffee shops, excess of nerdy Internet moguls and curious affection for pro soccer. A clever reference to “Sleepless in Seattle” is included in any put-down of the city because, hey, that was the title of a hit movie.

As for the Seahawks, coach Pete Carroll and All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman usually are singled out: Carroll for his rah-rah enthusiasm, and Sherman for that defiantly irreverent confrontation he had last year with the New England Patriots’ living-legend quarterback, Tom Brady.

But I haven’t read much lately that has disparaged Seattle or the Seahawks, and what I have read didn’t come from New Orleans. The Saints got their clocks cleaned Dec. 2 at CenturyLink Field, setting up a rematch steeped in mutual respect.

Heck, New Orleans coach Sean Payton couldn’t say enough nice things about Seattle football fans Thursday afternoon when he talked on Dave Mahler’s KJR radio show with former Hawks coach Mike Holmgren.

Payton, it turns out, took a crash course on Holmgren’s philosophies in 1997, when he worked alongside Jon Gruden, then the Philadelphia Eagles’ offensive coordinator and a noted Holmgren protégé.

The interview’s high-minded tone was refreshing, and it ended with Holmgren’s wish for Payton to travel safely.

Meanwhile, I’d be happy to play the role of spoilsport and talk trash about New Orleans, but c’mon, how am I supposed to contrive disdain for a town associated with the world’s best food and the world’s best music?

To borrow from Captain Renault’s description of Rick Blaine in “Casablanca”: New Orleans is like any other city, only more so.

The only quibble I’ve got with New Orleans is its permanent place in the host-city cycle of Super Bowls and Final Fours. Between covering several of those events and the occasional college football game — Sugar Bowls that coincided with New Year’s Eve — not to mention attending several spring Jazz Fests on my own dime, well, put it this way:

If I’m fortunate enough to live, say, to the age of 80, my epitaph will read: “He would’ve made it to 100 if he hadn’t spent so many nights in New Orleans.”

Ripping New Orleans’ football team is futile, too. If you admire the skill and improvisational ability of 5-foot-11 Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, you can’t help but admire Saints counterpart Drew Brees, who’s listed at 6-feet tall.

Brees didn’t enjoy the best game of his Hall of Fame-bound career Dec. 2 at CenturyLink Field, which is a gentle way of saying his performance — the Hawks held him to 147 yards and forced a first-quarter fumble that defensive end Michael Bennett converted into a momentum-defining touchdown — was among his worst.

But he didn’t deflect responsibility afterward, and neither did the Saints. They look their lumps and regrouped, as did a city intimately familiar with disasters more profound than suffering a beat-down in a Monday Night Football game.

Maybe that explains why the prelude to this playoff game has been so quiet, so businesslike. New Orleans has too much of a conscience to turn football into a life-and-death deal, and Seattle is more inclined to respond to a civic-rivalry confrontation than start one.

Perspective has intersected with passive, and the sheer civility of it all finds me restless.

Bring on San Francisco! Bring on a team from a powerhouse NFC West instead of the lightweight NFC South! The Saints’ players have grandmothers who wear combat boots!

Nah, sorry. My heart isn’t in it.

Safe travels, Sean.

john.mcgrath@thenewstribune.com

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