Football teams are usually named after ferocious animals (Bears, Tigers, Bengals, Panthers) or tough birds (Eagles, Falcons, Seahawks, Cardinals) or various marauders (Raiders, Buccaneers, Cowboys) or Native Americans (Chiefs, Redskins) or just big, tough stuff (Giants, Jets, Chargers, Titans).
Then you have the somewhat odder, quirkier nicknames (Packers, Steelers, 49ers, Browns).
And then you have the Saints.
The Saints? A football team named after…tough, rugged, intimidating saints.
Now that the New Orleans Saints will be playing in their first Super Bowl, I thought some might be wondering how they got the name.
According to the Pro Football Hall or Fame website, the city of New Orleans was awarded an NFL team on Nov. 1, 1966 — All Saints Day.
Of course, the city’s anthem is “When the Saints Go Marching in.”
And that’s probably the reason that when the late New Orleans States-Item asked New Orleans fans to choose a name for their new team, the winner was the Saints.
And what about the song itself, a famous gospel hymn recorded by everyone?
According to Allexperts.com, which relied on The Book of World Famous Music, Classical, Popular and Folk by James Fuld (1966), the earliest version of the hymn was published in 1896 in Cincinnati.
The hymn is a “funeral march,” meaning:
In the traditional funeral music traditions of New Orleans, Louisiana, often called the “jazz funeral”, while accompanying the coffin to the cemetery, a band would play the tune as a dirge On the way back from the interment, it would switch to the familiar upbeat “hot” or “Dixieland” style. While the tune is still heard as a slow spiritual number on rare occasions, from the mid-20th century it has been massively more common as a “hot” number. The number remains particularly associated with the city of New Orleans.
And what about the lyrics?
The song is apocalyptic, taking much of its imagery from the Book of Revelation, but excluding its more horrific depictions of the Last Judgment. The verses about the Sun and Moon refer to solar and lunar eclipses, respectively, although these cannot actually occur simultaneously. The “trumpet” is that of the Archangel Gabriel. As the hymn expresses the wish to go to Heaven, picturing the saints going in (through the Pearly Gates), it is entirely appropriate for funerals.
Does this explanation make the Saints a more appropriate nickname for a football team? Or less so?
Oh, and about the symbol on their helmet? The Saints’ website explains:
The Fleur de Lis, the emblem most closely associated with the New Orleans Saints and worn on the team’s helmets, is a symbol from the Court of Louis XIV. It is a french word that stands for “flower of the lily”. The Fleur de Lis is also a symbol for New Orleans, which was adopted during the French occupation of Louisiana from 1682-1762. Traditionally, it has been used to represent French royalty, and in that sense, it is said to signify perfection, light and life. Due to its’ three petals, the fleur-de-lis has also been used to represent the Holy Trinity.
(AP Photo/David J. Phillip)