Now understand that your pedestrian NFL observer will not likely link a team’s Super Bowl chances with the mating rituals of a bug, but we’ll get to that in a minute. First, the fact that little local uproar greeted the news that the Saints were again taking training camp out of the state reflects the modern “can do no wrong” attitude of Who Dats toward their team. It wasn’t always that way, including the year we took the team out of stifling heat, humidity and afternoon thunderstorms to bucolic La Crosse, Wisconsin, in the late 1980s.
The politicos in Baton Rouge were incensed that owner Tom Benson was enjoying state benefits through improvements at the Superdome, and the local fandom was up in arms that nearby Hammond wasn’t good enough for the new regime headed by GM Jim Finks. Fans did not realize that no matter what the good folks of Hammond and Southeastern Louisiana University tried to do, their facility still sat in the middle of a boiling crawfish pot. Our first year, in 1986, head trainer Dean Kleinschmidt counted more than 130 liters of IV fluids that had to be hot-wired into the veins of withering players. Each IV meant the next practice day was lost.
The Saints tried Hammond again the following year, but July 1987 turned out to the one of those monsoon summers where the rains came early and often. To find a suitable – aka “dry” – indoor practice facility meant numerous hour-long bus rides to the LSU indoor facility or the Superdome, when it wasn’t hosting tractor pulls or Motocross events. Finks and Coach Jim Mora began looking for a better way.
When the move to La Crosse became a reality, the local wipe was so incensed that it even used a rare Midwest heat wave to show how ill-advised that decision was. We arrived in La Crosse to temperatures in the high 90’s that sometimes topped the 100 mark. Even without the humidity of the lower Mississippi River, the heat on the northern end of that ripple was uncomfortable. So during first week of camp, the Times-Pickonyou ran a page 1 weather boxscore that frequently read: “La Crosse 98, New Orleans 94.” But after we were settled and the heat dissipated, the mayflies came.
Any New Orleans resident who has endured the swarms of Formosan termites around the first of May can get only an inkling of what we experienced. Unlike the small flying termites, a normal mayfly is the size of a dragon fly, while the bull mayfly is as big as a pigeon. Well, not really, but it seemed that way when a swarm can blot out every street light in town. Unlike the Formosan termites, which orient themselves to the light of the moon, mayflies flock to NFL training camps near streetlights and lamps. The recent story said that last week, swirls of green, yellow and blue splashed across radar screens at the National Weather Service in La Crosse like a rainstorm on an otherwise clear night.
I remember rising early from my University of Wisconsin La Crosse dorm bed for a 6 a.m. run and crunching my way through the streets and swarms of dead mayflies stacked around light poles. Wow, I thought those mayfly mating rituals must be dandies to leave all this carnage behind! I half-expected the dead mayfly carcasses to return to life and become a horror movie, but the annual siege is not so funny for those who still put up with it. News reports blamed at least one traffic accident on the infestation although there was no word on how many people were missing. Sorry, I couldn’t resist that one.
I’m not sure if West Virginia has anything to equal the mayfly. Mosquitoes don't have the cache or the sexual drive, from what I hear. But as long as training camp achieves its purpose, Who Dat Nation can be content with another Super Bowl and continue to endure its May Day ritual of hosting the Formosan termites.