Recap - Saints 31, Buccaneers 24
My second stop of the 2019 season and my 26th stadium visit overall is down to ‘The Big Easy’. One of the most electric and enjoyable cities in the US and one of the best football cities as well.
Cathy and I decided to come down a day early to take in all the amazing sights, sounds and great food of New Orleans. Our flight from Newark got us into town and over to our hotel in the French Quarter mid-morning. Back in NJ, there is already a nip in the air, but here we were greeted with a blazing 88 degrees.
After a fun and eventful day exploring the city – including Jackson Square, the palm lined bustling Canal Street, riding the St. Charles Streetcar through the Garden District past Tulane University, walking on the promenade alongside the Mississippi River, etc. - and throughout the day filling our stomach with Po Boys, Pat O’Brien’s Hurricanes, Muffuletta from Central Grocery, Pralines and Beignets from Café du Monde. After a quick nap and shower, we headed over to the legendary Brennan’s on Royal Street in the French Quarter (birthplace of Bananas Foster) – After dinner we headed over to Bourbon Street to partake in the one of a kind insanity only found there. Great people, great live music, great booze. I honestly lost count of the hand-grenades that we put back. I finished off the night with one of New Orleans legendary Lucky Dogs then staggered back to our hotel on Toulouse Street.
Somehow, with the help of a fistful of Tylenol and about a gallon of water, I was able to get my head clear enough to go for breakfast Decatur Street then took the very pleasant 20 minute walk up Decatur over to Magazine Street and a right turn down Poydras through the Central Business District to the Superdome, passing a lot of interesting shops, bars and hotels along the way including Walk-On's Bistreaux & Bar which is co-owned by Saints QB Drew Brees
The Mercedes-Benz Superdome opened in 1975 (originally as the Louisiana SuperDome), ten years after the Astrodome, making it the largest fixed dome structure in the world (seating over 73,000 for football) a distinction which it still holds. The dome has been host to some of the country’s premier sporting events and has hosted seven Super Bowls – more than any other venue.
Because of where it is situated and the arrangement of multi-level parking decks instead of wide lots, tailgating in the traditional sense is not allowed. A wonderful alternative was provided with ‘Champions Square’. This is a place for fans to gather before the game and enjoy food, booze, live music and special guest appearances from former Saint players and other celebrities. The only real difference from regular tailgating is that you can’t bring in outside food or drink. Inside the square on game day, it is a true New Orleans street party atmosphere with dancing, jazz bands, lots of food and drink and plenty of free giveaways from local vendors.
There are a lot of statues in Champions Square including team owner Tom Benson and one called “Rebirth” depicting the play where special teamer Steve Gleason famously blocked the ball off of the foot of Atlanta punter Michael Koenen and into the end zone for a Saints touchdown on Sept. 25, 2006, the night the rebuilt Superdome and the city of New Orleans hosted an NFL game for the first time after Hurricane Katrina. The statue depicts Gleason fully outstretched in a dive, his hands smothering the ball as it leaves Koenen's foot. Today the statue has a dual meaning, as it recognizes Gleason’s courageous battle against ALS.
Getting through security and into the gates was quick and easy despite the huge crowd. Once inside, I felt immediate relief from the already soaring temperatures as I was greeted with the wonderfully cool air-conditioning.
Navigating the crowd and getting through the concourses and to my seat was not too difficult, although the stadium has 6 levels and folks with tickets higher up have a fair amount of leg work to get to their seats
The Saints fans at the dome are as hard-core and intense as any – including those who patron the Black Hole in Oakland. The attire and regalia many of them show up in must take them hours to put on and would like right at home in the middle of the parade at Mardi-Gras. The phrase “Who Dat” is pervasive on game days in New Orleans. You hear it in the restaurants at breakfast time, walking the streets on the way to the stadium ad, once inside, about every 30 seconds.
Earlier this year I was at a game at Century Link field in Seattle and thought that it was the loudest sports venue I had been to. The Superdome may be just as loud or at least is a very close second.
After every Saints score, the fans all join in and sing what’s become the adopted Saints scoring song – “Stand Up and Get Crunk” -
Being one of the food capitals of the US, you would expect a New Orleans sports venue to have some great choices, and the SuperDome doesn’t disappoint. Many of the local specialties can be found here including shrimp po’ boys, catfish and seafood nachos, jambalaya and alligator sausage. Some of the standouts include Poydras Street Po’ Boys and Saint Jac’s BBQ. The local beer of choice at the Dome is Dixie.
There is a large open-air section for smokers (of which there were plenty) and the “Miller Lite Pub”, a huge lounge area with a long bar TVs and bars to watch other games. This impressive area is a popular gathering spot for fans during the game or at half time who need a break from their seats or want to meet up with their friends.
The game was a pretty close and exciting contest against the NFC South rival Tampa Bay Buccaneers. I was denied the pleasure of seeing one of the greatest QBs in NFL history run the offense for the Saints, as Drew Brees was dealing with a thumb injury and out several weeks, but their backup Teddy Bridgewater had a solid day, his best as a Saint, pitching 4 TD passes, 2 of them to all Pro wideout Michael Thomas. Thomas had 11 catches for 182 yards on the day and the Saints outdueled the Bucs and won 31-27 to improve their record to 4-1.
At halftime, there was an induction ceremony with former defensive end Will Smith being inducted posthumously into the club's Ring of Honor.
Two days is definitely not enough time to enjoy New Orleans. While we did get to see and do a lot of fun things, there a lot that we didn’t have time to get in, so another trip at some point in the future is in order.
Tonight, it is back to the Garden State for us. The next and final trip of 2019 isn’t until December when I head out to the Southwest to see Denver and Arizona.
Fans - A - New Orleans fans are fiercely devoted, enthusiastic and very involved in the game. I'm sure living in such a fun city and having such a good team has much to do with that.
Features - C - Champions Square is a great gathering place before the game, otherwise there were no notable features. The stadium in many aspects shows its age.
Food - A - Plenty of great local flavor available. I guess that's to be expected in America's best food city.
Game - A - Backup Teddy Bridgewater had his best game as a Saint holding down the fort for Drew Brees in a fun offensive shootout with the Bucs.
Overall Experience - A - Not one of the more remarkable stadiums I've been to, but I can't imagine it being possible not to have a good time in this city watching this team with these fans