The art of choosing a Saints jersey
By Ryan Chauvin
One of the downsides to winning a championship (the only one, really) is coping with the inevitable influx of bandwagon fans. Louisiana and the Gulf Coast have been awash with bandwagon fans since 2009, and as a lifelong Saint, there are times I resent them. Now, I know that new fans have to start somewhere, and that we won’t know the depth of their newfound devotion until the team hits an eventual rough patch. But their presence has significantly brought down the “authenticity” level of the fan base.
All that to say: my Drew Brees jersey has lost its value. I wear it on game days (in my surrogate home in D.C.) and I know people must look at me and assume I’m a bandwagon fan. I know this because when I see someone in a #9 jersey, I question their fandom: the duration of their loyalty, their knowledge of the game, and the depths of their passion. In discussing this problem with my friend Bradley over the past 18 or so months, we’ve come to appreciate the art of buying a jersey.
Now, I’m going to speak in terms of the Saints, because that’s what I know, but I’m pretty confident that this theory is applicable to all teams in all sports (although it works best for teams that have a sudden rise to prominence; I bet the Pirates would be a good case study). A jersey and, by extension, the player who wears it, has an implied value in a fan base that mirrors a phenomenon in music. As the popularity of a relatively unknown band/player rises, the most hardcore elements of its fan base begin to distance from it (usually under the pretense of the band “selling out”). So under this theory, my Brees jersey holds the least amount of currency among long-term Saints fans. The only jerseys that hold less value are Reggie Bush’s and Jeremy Shockey’s (even before they joined other rosters) because both were huge names and neither lived up to the hype.
Where this gets interesting, however, is deciding which jerseys have the most stock among Saints fans right now (sure, you’ll have your fans who will wear the old Manning or Roaf jersey, but I believe that’s a totally different topic, about embracing nostalgia despite the fact that now is the Golden Age of Saints history).
The joy in finding the perfect jersey is the same as finding that perfect (and undiscovered) underground band. You want to find the best before everyone else knows about it. You want to enjoy an inside joke with everyone else in the know. You want to see a nod of recognition as you pass a genuine fan and want everyone else to turn their heads as you pass so they can catch the name on the back of your jersey.
In a sea of whimsy, you want to rise to rise above, as a beacon of loyalty. I don’t mean to sound hyperbolic, but these are the stakes we’re playing with, people. Just as a Highlander must choose his weapon with care and precision, you must choose the number that represents your passion.
I’ve dug through the Saints 2011 roster and come up with my Saints 2011 Top 5 Indie Jerseys:
5. Jimmy Graham – It actually hurts me to put Jimmy(!) this low on my list. Graham has all the physical tools to be one of the most unstoppable redzone threats in the league and has one of the most precise quarterbacks of all time throwing to him. He surged late last year, and with Shockey in Carolina, he’ll become a focal point in the Saints offense. This will quickly become a mainstream pick. I have a feeling that if/when we reevaluate next year, he’ll have officially “sold out” (by which I mean scored 10+ TDs and 750+ yards, and earned accolades from all relevant mainstream media sources).
4. Jonathan Casillas – Casillas is an undrafted rookie who signed with the Saints in 2009 (the only rookie free agent to earn a roster spot in 2009) who shined on special teams and played as a backup during the championship season. After Scott Fujita left for Cleveland, he had a chance to compete for a starting role until an injury in the 2010 preseason sidelined him for the entire year. This might be a risky choice, but it looks like Casillas is leading a pool of untested linebackers competing to start alongside Jonathan Vilma this year, and he’s quietly becoming a fan favorite.
3. Lance Moore – If Lance Moore was an indie band, he’d be the group that tours non-stop for three years and goes to every dive bar on the East Coast looking for a break. Lance Moore will likely never be a household name outside the Who Dat Nation, and honestly, I’m perfectly happy with that. He just re-signed for 5 years and he’s one of Brees’s favorite targets, so you’ll be sure to get a ton of mileage out of this purchase. He’s a solid receiver who might shine brighter in other offenses, but here he’s just a (very critical) cog in the machine. Oh, and for what it’s worth, he has a black belt in karate. I’m not sure why that’s important, but trust me, it is.
2. Carl Nicks – Nicks is one of the five best guards in the league and yet he’s still overshadowed on his own team by Jahri Evans. Many people who follow the team will argue that Nicks had a better season than Evans in 2010 (personally, I have no capacity to rate the performance of an offensive lineman – just don’t allow sacks). But the combination of blue-chip talent and virtually no media coverage makes Nicks a perfect candidate for a well-respected jersey. I’m not even sure I’ve seen a Nicks jersey before, so be a trail blazer and go purchase a #77.
1. Zach Strief – Specifically, this is a custom jersey. Because if you have to ask, you don’t get it.