METAIRIE, La. -- I'll admit that I didn't think too much of it when I heard there were hundreds of fans lined up in the wee hours of Sunday morning to greet the New Orleans Saints when their plane returned from Philadelphia.
I guess I'm used to it by now, after so many years of that being the usual routine among the “Who Dat Nation” after big games -- even losses.
Apparently not everyone is used to it, though. First-year Saints veterans Benjamin Watson and Shayne Graham both talked this week about how they'd never seen anything like it -- despite a combined 23 years in the NFL.
“In my 10 years in the NFL, I have never witnessed anything like that,” Watson said earlier this week. “I've never witnessed anything like when we lose a game, there are still people out there welcoming us back. I knew coming to New Orleans, being that I have my wife and family down here, this is a special place. They love their team, and the team is a part of the community. You are talking about a couple hundred people out there at 4:30 in the morning welcoming a football team back. You just don't see that at a lot of other places. It's a credit to the fans and it is a credit to our team that the guys on this team connect with the community.
“Even though most of us aren't from here when we play here, and I have only been here for a year, you start to feel somewhat of a connection with your neighborhood and the people that come to support you every Sunday.”
Added Graham on Tuesday: "I was impressed, shocked really. It was 4:30 in the morning and there was so many people out there, people shooting off fireworks and lining the street. It was a very interesting scene and one that showed the dedication of the fans here. I've never seen anything like that."
Coach Sean Payton, who has seen it many times before, still enjoyed the spectacle.
“It's amazing,” Payton said. “You kind of clear the one group, you make a turn and then you have five times as many down the homestretch. It's a pretty cool thing that's unfolded over the years here. We never take it for granted.”
Worth repeating: Saints rookie left tackle Terron Armstead, when asked if he still “feels like a rookie” with three starts under his belt: “I don't know what a rookie is supposed to feel like. I'm just going to go out and play hard and play fast.”
Worth re-tweeting: Former Saints defensive end Bobby McCray's response when he saw that Payton had the Seahawks logo painted on the Saints practice fields: “I'd be pissed… So therefore Brilliant idea by @SeanPayton”
More Payton ploys: We wrote about plenty of Payton's motivational tactics last week. But he rolled out another one the day before the game that NBC talked about during the broadcast. Payton showed the team video clips of players like Drew Brees and Darren Sproles thriving in cold-weather games when they were in college, set to the tune of “Winter Wonderland.” And he even brought in dry ice for effect to help continue his week-long approach of embracing/mocking the “Saints can't win in the cold” story line.
Worth a click:
Lock in this page for all of ESPN.com's Saints-Seahawks content this week -- including the latest on rehabbing Seattle Seahawks receiver Percy Harvin. And follow Seahawks reporter Terry Blount on Twitter @TerryBlountESPN.
Over on the other side of the NFC bracket, ESPN.com's Jeffri Chadiha reminds folks not to forget about Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton.
ESPN's NFL draft blog took an early look at the NFC South's draft needs with some suggested prospect in this piece that requires Insider access.
The Advocate's Gary Estwick wrote about Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman's thoughts on Brees.
The Times-Picayune's Jeff Duncan had more on Shayne Graham's well-traveled road to the biggest kick of his career.
The weather didn't bother the Saints too much last week. But according to WWL TV in New Orleans, the forecast looks even more challenging this time around.