It’s Sunday in New Orleans, the holiest of days for Saints fans. The faithful rise at dawn, dress in their black-and-gold best for the noontime game, then head to early Mass, where even the priests have been known to pull jerseys over their robes and send up big-play prayers. Football may be the nation’s most popular sport, but here it’s a full-on religion.
I was raised a believer. During the 1920s my grandfather played for one of the early pro teams out of Ohio, before meeting my grandmother and moving to Alabama where our family tree became solidly rooted in pigskin. There were Friday night high-school games, where, just as in church, families had their regular spots on the bleachers and bowls of boiled peanuts were passed among the congregation like collection plates. On Saturdays we’d gather in front of my grandparents’ hulking black-and-white console for heated college matchups. My father played; my brother played; I played. Still, I was no major-league fan … until I moved to New Orleans.
Here football isn’t just a family affair but a strong communal bond, the tie that binds this amazing city together. It’s our lifeblood. Each week every autumn, in homes and bars and other gathering grounds around town, residents from all walks join forces and become one for three hours, putting aside their differences for a shared love of the game.
We fly team flags from our front porches, parade our decorated vehicles through the streets, dress up and throw down. We huddle around the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, even when we can’t score tickets, for top-notch tailgating; champion our $100-million quarterback as a future mayor; and support our beloved Saints through thick and thin, good times and bad, win or lose (this season it’s mainly been the latter).
Currently New Orleans is in the thick of Super Bowl XLVII preparations, with roadwork and infrastructure improvements fast under way in anticipation of hosting February’s Big Game (the city’s 10th time to do so). Louis Armstrong International Airport is receiving a much-needed face-lift; there’s a new streetcar line being laid near the Dome; taxicabs are being brought up to speed; hotels are being overhauled, and new restaurants are opening at a hungry clip.
At a kickoff luncheon last week, officials outlined what promises to be one of the biggest Super Bowls in history and a huge economic impact (more than $400 million) on the city and region. The mega event is expected to draw an unprecedented number of accredited media (more than 5,000 from 20-plus countries) and has already generated 110,000 secured room nights at area hotels. The most impressive stat touted, however, was the 8,000 local volunteers who will suit up as Super Bowl XLVII ambassadors, embodying both the city’s trademark joie de vivre and its football fanaticism.
It couldn’t have been that hard to corral them—just look around the Superdome on a home-game Sunday.