New Orleans was my final city of my two week, six city scramble and I was surprised by how smooth this trip was going. No flight delays or cancellations (knocking on wood as I type). I arrived late afternoon on Thursday and took the E2 bus into downtown. It was about a 45-minute bus ride and I was let off at Canal and Loyola. I walked the rest of the way to my hostel and noticed a definite shift in neighborhoods as soon as I walked past the underpass. With my faith in humanity fairly high, I kept walking full speed down to my hostel. No one bothered me, most people just said hello, but I wouldn’t try walking around at night… that’s pushing my luck. After being disappointed with a few of my stays on Airbnb, I switched to HostelWorld.com to find safer alternatives. My pick for New Orleans- Auberge Nouvelle was great, though I should’ve come from St. Charles Ave, instead of through Central City.
I spent Thursday exploring the city and eating all the beignets I could stuff into my mouth. I looked like a little crack head covered in powdered sugar head to toe. The French Quarters during the day are a stark contrast from Bourbon St. at night, though I did see a lot of people carrying around drinks even as I got my breakfast. I’ve been to New Orleans a couple of times and never made it out of the French Quarters, so during this trip, I made it a point to do something different. I took the cable car up Canal St. and walked through the City Park and Metairie Cemetery. I’ve always loved cemeteries and find them very peaceful. There’s no better reminder to live then time spent with the dead! One of the caretakers at Metairie gave me a brief overview of the history, pointed out a few important graves, and threw in an NFL tidbit- the Bensons (Saints owners) had recently purchased a lot and their building would be the first to have lights. I will be interested to see what the place looks like when they’re done. Will it be a mini Superdome?
Around 4 pm, I headed back to the French Quarters and stopped at a hotel to fix my hair and change into real clothes for the game. I’ve gotten fairly good at packing light and had managed to pack everything into my clear NFL bag. All fresh and ready, I was back on the streets and headed to the game. By now there were way more people out on Bourbon St. and I saw Falcons fans littered in the crowds. They were fresh off that victory I saw in Atlanta and loudly chanting “Rise Up” in response to “Who Dat.” The walk to the stadium was maybe 15 minutes and I instantly regretted breaking in new boots. I arrived at the stadium with plenty of time to walk around before the game. As I approached the stadium, I crossed by Champions Square and took a left thinking this was a good place to start. The square was lined with alcohol vendors and in the center against backdrops of Saints players was a giant stage and fans were starting to gather in front. It was still early, so there were only a few hundred people, but they were already cheering and the emcee was preparing a dance off. I walked up the steps and found that Pat Bowlen is not alone in having a statue of himself outside his stadium. Tom Benson also has that honor and he’s even holding up the Lombardi! Not bad.
My last memory (in person) of the Superdome was attending the Ohio State/LSU National Championship. THERE WERE NO HAPPY MEMORIES MADE HERE THAT NIGHT. It was a bad time, though last year’s Sugar Bowl win over ‘Bama has slightly eradicated my sad feelings associated with this building. I was looking forward to making new, happy memories here in person at the dome. There was time to kill, so I made a loop around the entire stadium and found it looks exactly the same on every side, but the workers outside were so friendly and kept saying hi to me, so I just kept walking around. I love how people say hi to you in the south despite not knowing you. Something about it just makes my day! Near the end of my loop, I walked down a ramp and picked up my press pass for the game. Thank you, Saints for the credential! By the time I reached Champions Square again, the crowd had quadrupled in size and the concourse in front of the stadium was abuzz. There wasn’t much in terms of tailgating from my observations, but why would you want to pre-game here when you have the French Quarters within walking distance?
I entered the stadium through the media entrance and there was a little confusion (not just on my part) on where to pick up the specific elevator to the press box. They told me elevator 8, but then a worker sent me to the visitor’s side and they sent me back and forth until one guy said enough and escorted me himself to the proper elevator. Sometimes life is hard. Once up in the press box, I messaged my contact with the Saints and since he was busy taking care of the pre-game activities on the field, he directed me to one of his coworkers, Evan. I met with him and established that we would meet back in the press box following the game to sign my witness log book. We also realized that we were both at the 2007 National Championship Game, though on opposite sides. Talking a little college football is always fun, though I kept it in the present… but managed to give Leonard Fournette a little love, he’s ok at running the football.
I had moved up to the standing room behind the 100 level seats and the view of the field was great along either sideline. I found that you couldn’t stand in the end zone areas, but there was plenty of room along either sideline. As soon as the Saints scored it was an immediate dance party. People were going nuts- jumping, cheering, dancing, running around the concourse screaming. My hands hurt from high fives and I got a surprising amount of hugs from strangers. It was infectious and I became the most bandwagon Saints fan in that moment. I was all about this team tonight. They played “When the Saints go marching in” and the whole stadium danced and cheered together. Then they played “Halftime” by the Ying Yang Twins and that got the place going even more. The amount of celebrating in New Orleans is too da*n high- said no one ever.
The first half of this game flew by as I made a loop around the concourse, stopping to watch the game along the way. Everyone I stood by was friendly and in good spirits. It helped the Saints were beating their arch-rival, but even the Falcons fans were cool. There weren’t many of them, though. I was surprised that they didn’t travel well for a rivalry game but wondered if it was because it was a weeknight. Right before halftime, I made a beeline for the bathroom, knowing there would be long lines. I had noticed there were a lot of restrooms along the concourse and it made sense because they weren’t very large (more than the Georgia Dome, but not by much). The Superdome is an older venue and the concourse was tight and lined heavily with food and drink options. This crowd was definitely indulging in libations! I took the escalators up to the top level and found the upper bowl to be very, very steep. Be careful walking to your seats up there, one slip and you’re going to tumble!
After a dancing marching band performed for most of the halftime, there was a mini parade led by a fan through one of the end zones. I like how the city’s culture is heavily displayed in the stadium. As a visiting fan, I could see the pride radiating from fans and that there was this deep sense of community as well. It felt like everyone knew each other, very similar to what I experienced in Green Bay. As the third quarter progressed, I walked up those steep steps into an entrance to the press box. I’d had enough experience with the elevators for one trip and found you could come up from the stands. I paused at the entrance to watch a couple series from the very last row of seats and found it was still very loud even at the top.
The press box at this stadium is unique because it’s completely open to the stadium. There are no windows keeping out the crowd noise and it’s nice to not have a sterile environment. I watched most of the remainder of the game from my seat but went back down to the stands opening when the Saints looked like they’d score again. I wanted to cheer and dance around with the crowd… that’s still frowned upon in press boxes, no matter what the situation!
Despite Devonta Freeman’s best attempts at making this a game, the Saints handed their arch nemesis their first loss of the season. Hopefully, this gets New Orleans back on track the rest of the season. I met back up with Evan and thanked him for helping me out during the game. Not wanting to leave just yet, I went and watched the stadium clear out and the Thursday Night Football crew wrap up their post game. It’s a little nerdy, but I enjoy watching the behind the scenes production that goes into the setup and tear down of their set. It’s pretty nifty how quickly they get it up and going. Of course, after I left the Superdome, I headed back to Bourbon St. Many fans from both sides had done the same and I met up with another friend from college, Nick, who happened to be in town on a guy’s trip. My flight was out of New Orleans at 5 am the following morning and I decided I’d pull an all-nighter. Couldn’t pass up the nightlife in this city!
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Special thank you to Evan for his time and assistance during my visit! Also thanks to the rest of the Saints staff the helped or talked to me during my visit!