As the lights went out in the Superdome and our city’s slip was showing, I had a moment to think of the last time the Dome lost power and how far this city has come from the devastation it faced over 7 years ago. New Orleans is a small city with a big heart. Sometimes traffic is held up for a parade or our cell towers go down from overuse (not anymore – thank you NFL) or our power goes out. I can’t help but think if it had been the Who Dat nation in the Dome tonight, we would have used the time to do some rounds of “Who Dats!” or sing When the Saints Go Marching In. After all, we’re only taking a short break from the marathon party of Mardi Gras to hold this extraordinary event, our 10th time hosting the Super Bowl – not bad for a small city with a big heart.
The festivities began early Wednesday for me with a group photo with Drew Brees, quarterback of our beloved Saints. DancingMan504 led the Stooges Brass Band past our holding area in the Morial Convention Center as we waited to form a horseshoe around an NFL logo on a faux field. Yes, ladies, Drew’s just as cute in person and his smile is electric. I had hoped to meet him but I was there with one of my favorite non-profits, Raintree Children and Family Services (foster and special needs children), to collect a grant from the Companies With A Mission Super Service Challenge in conjunction with the Brees Dream Foundation. So, I missed my chance with Drew to thank Mitch Davis, Executive Director of Companies With A Mission, for bringing their program to our city.
Thursday, things kicked off with the arrival of “the numbers.” A barge carried in the giant roman numerals marking Super Bowl XLVII and parked along Woldenberg Park as a long fireworks display played out. My friends from L.A.-band Vintage Trouble were back to play at the Madden Bowl and invited us to watch them win over yet another packed crowd. The party was a who’s who of football legends, including Jerry Rice, Troy Aikman and Arian Foster as well as Saints coach Sean Payton. Who Dat! Once again, I was within inches of Drew Brees but I’d just run into former classmate and Daltry Calhoun co-star David Koechner, so I let the moment pass. Again.
Then I found a new perk to being in Django Unchained. We spotted Saints tight end, Jimmy Graham and I found the courage to say hello to my favorite Saint. Yes, we all love Drew but I have room in my heart for another favorite as evidenced by Graham’s many mentions in this blog. Turns out he’s a big fan of Django and has seen the movie 3 times! What a thrill! He even liked my hand-knitted Who Dat sweater, hat and scarf and my Saints earrings. And he has this message for all of us – the Saints are coming back with a vengeance next season. Geaux Saints!
After the amazing show by Vintage Trouble, we stayed for the concerts of Big Boi and most of Lil Wayne. In the VIP crowd of men averaging well over 6 feet, most wearing Super Bowl rings, one athlete stood out – Olympic Superman, Michael Phelps. In an area full of people fans wanted photos with, the football icons wanted photos with Phelps. I really don’t think there’s anywhere he can go in the world without people wanting a photo with him. So, I let that moment pass too.
Friday was my third day in a row being in the same room with Drew Brees. We attended the Super Bowl Breakfast as guests of Companies with a Mission. After a much needed nap, we headed down to Woldenberg Park to enjoy the free concerts provided by the NFL. Like the French Quarter Fest, the weekend-long concert series had multiple stages and lots of food booths. Other people have fast food, we have fest food. We enjoyed the Cochon de Lait Po-Boy ($8) from Love at First Bite with Super Four Cheese Macaroni ($4) from La Divina Gelateria. Then, Cajun Jambalaya ($6) and Chicken and Andouille Gumbo ($6) from Brocato’s Eat Dat Catering. Yum.
I finally got to see Mem Shannon & the MEMbership play their funky brand of soulful blues songs and NOLA favorites. Definitely worth the wait. Most of the crowd was wearing Saints gear. In fact, it looked like game day with a few visitors from 2 opposing teams. I’d noticed it during the fireworks the night before but chalked it up to being a weekday. Maybe visitors were arriving, but they didn’t seem to know that there were stages full of our best musicians all along the riverfront.
Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue were the big show of the night – and what a show! The highlight was a medley of local standards peppered with chants of Who Dats! As Trombone Shorty held his bedazzled Saints scarf in the air to the approval of a black-and-gold clad crowd, I thought, “I don’t think I’ve ever seen a city so proud of a LOSING team.” After the Saints won the Super Bowl, they returned to an ocean 1 million strong of their devoted fans. The losing team, the Colts, arrived to 11 people at the airport. I always thought it was too bad that their fans didn’t welcome the second best football team home from a strong finish. Thousands of Who Dats show up at the airport after a regular away game – win or lose.
Maybe our pride looks silly to the fans supporting their champion teams, but this is the city that supported the “Aint’s.” They may have worn paper bags on their heads, but they dressed in their fan-gear and cheered on their losers. This is a small city that took a big hit. The biggest. EVERYTHING needed rebuilding. The city needed schools and doctors and trash removal, but they knew enough to know that our hope was under the tattered roof of the Superdome where all those citizens sought refuge and found only darkness. Maybe the power went out for awhile at the Super Bowl but that’s a hiccup in a city with a will and fortitude this big.
Walking home, I passed the iconic St. Louis Cathedral all lit up for the CBS cameras in Jackson Square. Flapping in the breeze next to the American flag was another flag – a black and gold one. It read, Super Bowl XLIV champions New Orleans Saints. Amen.