HOUMA — Monday mornings at 10, Russell Williams Sr. decks himself out in his Saints gear to meet his coworkers and brag about their football team's Sunday performance.
About 25-30 people gather under a tree at the Afghanistan military base where Williams, 46, works as a contractor training troops. Like many other Saints fans, Williams admits it hasn't always been easy to brag about the black and gold, but persistence and passion have paid off.
“This year, they hate to see me coming in all my Saints gear,” Williams said. “It's been beautiful. Now I don't have to say a word. I just walk up to folks and say nothing. Then they just say, ‘Aw, man. Y'all lucked out again,' and I take it from there.”
Williams is living proof that time and nations can't come between a fan and his Saints. A native of Lockport, Williams has traveled the world during his 25-year career in the Army and, afterward, as a contractor overseas. But wherever he's lived, he's carried the Saints fever with him.
“My mom says he's been a Saints fan since the jerseys were only a dollar,” said Marquita Hill, Williams' niece.
Williams joined the Army at 18 and has worked in Korea, Georgia, South Carolina, Germany and Missouri, commanding tanks, leading troops as a drill sergeant for 20 years and working in security.
For the past two years, after retiring from the Army, he's helped train U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan, a job he loves.
“I enjoyed serving my country and wouldn't trade it for anything in the world,” Williams said.
Meanwhile, he's kept his connection to home through his diehard passion for the Saints.
“Growing up in Louisiana, that's our NFL team,” said Stephanie Stewart, Williams' sister. “Even though he's away from home, that's our heritage. It's in his Louisiana blood.”
Williams watches Saints games on the Internet or on the American Forces Network television channel, which carries popular American shows, sports, movies, news and other programming for American forces overseas.
Because of the 13-hour time difference between Louisiana and Afghanistan, Saints football games play live at 3 or 4 a.m., Stewart said. Ever dedicated, Williams stays up late on Sundays, catching the game and watching highlights.
Though he's far away this year, Williams said it's been amazing to watch the Saints' 2009 winning streak.
“After watching and supporting them for so many years, it's a blessing to finally not have to say, ‘Wait until next year,' ” Williams said.
He doesn't let family members forget his passion. Stewart, who lives in Houma, is a Dallas Cowboys fan, and she said Williams will send her and other family members Saints gear in the mail. During a recent visit home, Stewart said, Williams even rescheduled his flight to make sure he could watch the game.
The family has kept in touch with him while he's been in Afghanistan through weekly calls over Skype, an Internet video-conferencing service. Stewart says Williams makes sure to have all his Saints gear on the walls in the background when he gets on his webcam.
Confident that this is the year the Saints will go to the Super Bowl, Williams has been trying to get home to watch them play in Miami.
“It seems like I will still be over here,” Williams said. “But you can bet I will be dressed in my Saints gear with my flag cheering on my Super Bowl Saints.”
Williams wanted to send one last message back to his fellow Saints fans and Americans back in Louisiana. He thanked everyone back home for supporting the troops serving in Afghanistan and Iraq, who he works with every day.
“I watch the soldiers go out on missions each and every day not knowing what they will encounter, but every day they will do it without hesitation. It's only because of the support they receive from home that allows them to do everything with confidence,” Williams said.