In the lobby of the Saints Hotel in Appleton, Wisconsin, Sunday morning was a player piano. It played one song over, and over, and over again. It was the theme to the 1970's tear-jerker, "The Way We Were."
The way we were, as the Saints and their travelling party, when last we were there to open the 2011 season, was vastly different from the way we are currently.
In 2011, the Saints were a year removed from a Super Bowl championship -- which becomes more and more a "misty, water-colored memory" with each and every successive loss that now number four.
Sunday night, the national television spotlight will be focused on the Mercedes-Benz Superdome when the San Diego Chargers visit. I expect the Chargers to be largely ignored in the pre-game story line. Instead it figures to focus on bounties, suspensions, and the subsequent fall from the pinnacle of a world championship to a share of the worst record in the NFL at the season's quarter pole.
What face will Saints fans show the world Sunday? Already I hear rumblings that some fans will choose not to show theirs at all by staying away or breaking out the 'Aints bags, exhumed from the attic, relics from a losing era more than three decades ago, stashed away with the love beads and leisure suits and presumed to never be back in style again.
I would hate to see that they would be now. Especially now.
It was 32 years ago that those bags came out in the throes of a winless start to the season. For the longest time they served as New Orleans' symbol to the outside world: a symbol of losing, ineptitude, and deprecating self-pity.
Since then we have fought to transform our image to one of a winner, of tenacity, of overcoming whatever obstacles fate and fortune might place in our path.
And we have largely succeeded.
We can underscore that message Sunday night in an atmosphere that reflects the support that other cities would reserve for a 4 and 0 football team instead of an 0 and 4 one.
The Chargers are division leaders. 3 and 1. Winners Sunday over a Kansas City Chiefs team that beat the Saints a week ago on the Saints' home field, where they are winless this season.
And yet the Saints are favored by odds-makers who see a Saints team that has not quit and expected to be supported by fans who have not quit on them. Fans who regard themselves as some of the NFL's best.
We have climbed the mountain with this football team before, rallying from professional and personal despair to do so.
If we had the chance to do it all again, would we? Could we?
Now that chance is here again, long before any of us anticipated.
And the question is, "Should we?"