Panthers Saints Football

New Orleans Saints tight end Jimmy Graham celebrates after scoring against the Carolina Panthers withwide receiver Lynn Bowden during the second half of an NFL football game in New Orleans, Sunday, Dec. 10, 2023. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

If parity is the spice of life, as the National Football League allegedly believes, the New Orleans Saints find themselves in the middle of the sporting world's most exciting nexus right now.

The NFL has introduced various measures to achieve parity — aka level the playing field. Salary caps, for instance, negate the advantages of the richer teams, while the least successful teams go first in the next draft.

Trouble is, the NFC South in the flesh is too often dullsville. With the end of the regular season fast approaching, there wasn't a winning team in the entire bunch. The Saints were in a three-way tie with the Atlanta Falcons and the Tampa Buccaneers to lead the division at 6-7. The division's other team, the Carolina Panthers, had won just one game.

Parity, it seems, can be a recipe for mediocrity.

The fans have certainly noticed. When the Saints played the Panthers last week, tickets were going for $4.

It has, in fact, been apparent for the last few years that parity is not all it is cracked up to be. The idea was to spread the chances of gridiron success more evenly so that the denizens of smaller markets could indulge in Super Bowl dreams, too.

Once upon a time, the idea that the Saints might play in the big game one day seemed so outlandish that TV sportscaster Buddy Diliberto vowed to wear a dress in public if it ever happened. Not only did the Saints make the Super Bowl, but they won in 2010. Sadly by that time “Buddy D” was dead or, to borrow a line from the newspaper obits, was wearing his angel wings, which would have suited him even less.

As for the prospects for this year's Super Bowl, the mathematical possibilities are as absurd as a yat sports reporter in drag. Since whoever wins the NFC South will be a contender, we had better be ready to declare the Saints world champions again just in case. When we're talking football, it really is a small world.

Why football is plumped for parity is not a hard question to answer. NFL owners wanted to share the joy and excitement of the game more widely because they figured that's where the money is. You don't get to be an NFL owner without showing a healthy respect for moolah in the first place. The theory behind parity is that an NFL franchise in every burg spreads more joy than a chicken in every pot.

But, as we saw when the Saints played the Panthers, some NFL teams are bigger draws than others. Fans will flock to see a star — say Tom Brady in his pomp — but be blind to the journeyman skills of some highly paid lineman.

To talk of mediocre players in the NFL is an absurdity — there are only 32 teams in the whole, great big country, so only elite athletes get a look-in. Still, if only elite players are allowed on the field, evenly matched tedium is always a possibility. Parity can make for epic struggles between gifted athletes, or it can mean a boring slog.

Whatever. If the Saints win, we'll take it.

Right now, at least on paper, the Saints could be headed for Las Vegas in February. Super Bowl dreams are everywhere right now. Enjoy them while you can.

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