Nick Underhill: A Billet-Doux from Me to You
I am warming up my windpipe for “Domecoming: 2021 Edition,” but, after three weeks of the Saints season, I quite literally mean it. Who dat?
If you, too, have been fighting flights of disassociation on Sunday afternoons, you’re not alone.
Once again, it’s flight problems we’re talking about. The Saints have passed for 387 yards. Total. In three games. That’s, like, two Justin Tucker field goals and one Metro garbage run.
(Fun fact: Justin Tucker grew up in Texas, receiving the Sacrament of Confirmation from the then-head of the Diocese of Austin: Bishop Gregory Aymond.)
For all the talk of Drew Brees’ noodle arm — more precisely a rigatoni riffle or penne peashooters? His 5’10 frame and all. — Jameis Winston has yet to open up the offense. There have been some nice moments. I particularly have enjoyed the final whistle of the first and third games.
But there also have been some…strange ones. Last week’s Bermuda Triangle attempt to Adam Trautman. The first career reception of the son of Joe Horn, who happens to play corner for the Panthers. That left-handed incompletion.
Nothing to trump Max Johnson’s creativity against UCLA, but strange nonetheless.
And yet, I’m still pro-Jameis and his baby-giraffeing towards making good decisions. That Superdome smoke was definitely black, meaning our Catholic christened team has not named a new quarterback (and probably also meaning Dave Dixon’s dome is somewhere on its back nine… Happy 50th in 2025!).
Baby’s gonna get his footing. I think. Metaphorically, if not actually. Remember that when the next fluttering throwaway becomes a Marquez Callaway touchdown.
I’m so pro-Jameis I’d even apply for chaplain of the fan club, if anyone would actually take me as a chaplain these days. And if I thought I could actually break through to a guy who interprets a no-no-no throw as an act of God.
Everything happens for a reason. And sometimes the reason is your second-year, undrafted wide receiver has elite body control.
Jameis combines a rocket arm with shaky decision-making and a youth minister’s sensibility. Enthusiastic, earnest, enjoys the opportunity to witness. Of course, he takes the warmup pep talk very seriously. (Poor Deonte Harris can’t possibly know what to do here.)
What is my reason for hope? The 100 billion pennies I’ve been storing away in my piggie bank. Gayle, choose me!
While I’ve been fascinated to read this week’s NOLA.com “Super Succession Special” (my suggested subcaption: Saints PR blitz prior to any challenge of the Benson will), that’s not the source of my hope.
To be truthful, I don’t actually have 100 billion pennies.
My hope comes from another media source: Nick Underhill.
Underhill covered the Saints for the Times Picayune-Daily Advocate-New Orleans States-New Orleans Item before a year-long, self-selected exile to Boston to watch the swansong of Belichick and Brady for TheAthletic.com. Returning to his senses and to New Orleans, Underhill took his leap of faith, creating NewOrleans.Football and hoping fans would follow. They have.
Though Underhill’s site is subscription-based, breaking through the paywall is a lot cheaper than breaking down to a therapist.
Underhill holds Who Dat hands through the parades and the panics, as Sean Payton describes an NFL season. His thorough, reasoned analysis speaks to readers on just the right level, raising them to a level of discourse not present elsewhere. This is what happened. Here’s most likely why it happened.
Plus, Underhill has an intuitive sense for the right angle. My grandfather used to say sports coverage was simple: write about the quarterback. Translation: write about the most significant person or concept or challenge.
Underhill does this in his weekly articles and podcasts. And he does it fast. When Bradley Roby was acquired from the Houston Texans last month, Underhill had an article up quicker than an Alvin Kamara 40-time. Granted, Roby is an Ohio State University defensive back, so he probably should have 800 words in the can. (Can’t wait to read about Denzel Ward!) Still, it was impressive.
Which leads us to our dear quarterback, existing somewhere on the great expanse between impressive and incompetent. Underhill here stresses patience. The proper context for six second half passing attempts against New England is still coming into focus — and there’s no Lasik to quicken that process.
Take his wing-and-a-prayer td. If it were from the arm of Patrick Mahomes, the expert roundtables would be screaming, “Genius!” Seeing it from the arm of Winston is a bit different.
Mahomes also probably wouldn’t have detailed post-game the Novena he prayed in the pocket… but still: patience, context.
When asked to prognosticate — a daily request over an order of beignets or a plate of beans— my grandfather developed a time-worn answer: We shall see.
Apply that to our 2-1 quarterback as we all return to the Dome this week.
Don’t apply it to Underhill, though. We have the right context for him already. A note of gratitude to one of the best sportswriters this city has ever produced.
Not ready to shell out for a NewOrleans.Football subscription? Tune into the free weekly podcast. If you’re into the Saints or tight-fitting shirts, it’s for you.
It’s easy to make Jameis a punching bag. Crab legs. Eat a W. 30 and 30. But can you imagine living your life under such a spotlight, for so long, with such good humor? It doesn’t absolve him from serious things (like a 4th quarter interception!), but it does matter. And all from a guy who grew up just outside Birmingham, I love turning back the clock and watching this Hueytown High interview.