The time between the NFL Draft and the beginning of training camps is excruciating for me. For three months, I scrounge for any possible pigskin crumbs -- this year it began in May, when I downloaded the Saints' entire 2006 season (thank you, BitTorrent!) and watched every play over and over, analyzing each player's assignment. The good news is, if Marques Colston gets hurt, I'm well-versed in all of his route and blocking assignments. The bad news is, it's July and I'm still pale. Most recently, as the home stretch became increasingly unbearable, I decided to sift through the team's 80+ 2007 player photos.
But all that patheticness is over.
Training camp has arrived. The Saints are, as I type this, three-and-a-half days through practices. Players are rising and falling. First-round picks are slowly trickling into camp. The first preseason game is less than a week away. It's football season.
My days are full of meaning again. I will no longer resort to looking at gravefaced player photos! I will now spend my days at SaintsReport.com, reading the camp reports intently, monitoring trends and looking out for the next diamond in the rough. (Did I say the patheticness was over? OK, I lied).
Pathetically devoted to football, I may be. But this is a special time of year for me. Over the many painful years as a Saints fan, I've been treated to this Pavlovian condition. The sounds of drills being executed and bare shells cracking against each other, and the sight of red-jerseyed quarterbacks, triggers my endorphins, because until last year it's been the happiest part of the season. I cling to training camp because it's the one time where 32 fanbases are positive that this is their year. Now, oh now!, that hope for me is not unfounded. The Saints are legitimate Super Bowl contenders. Considering that, it's no wonder this offseason has been more painful than others. Last year was so fantastic, it ended prematurely (and bitterly) in the Chicago snow. I wanted one more Saints game last season. I needed one more Saints game. Having never seen them get so close to the Super Bowl, I didn't realize how much easier it was to deal with those below .500 seasons. When your team sucks, at least you can slowly ingratiate yourself to an early offseason; last year I went from having Super Bowl dreams to seeing it all disappear in about the time it took Tommie Harris to slice through the Saints interior offensive line.
So this year I get to experience training camp, historically my favorite part of the season, with the concrete possibility that there are even better times ahead. Len Pasquarelli is at the team's Millsaps camp, already referring to them as "the class of the NFC" by what he's seen in practice. Peter King thinks they'll be in the Super Bowl. And I understand that a myriad of things can doom the Saints to a 5-11 season -- a catastrophic injury that could rob us of Drew Brees (and send me on suicide watch), or just a plunge into mediocrity (ala the '06 Panthers). And next year, the sting of disappointment, of a real let-down (not just the pipe dream variety), might cause me to be a little less hopeful.
But I'll still love every minute of training camp. Thank God it's here.