Win or lose, the Saints playing in the Super Bowl is like a healing, a laying on of hands for New Orleans, La. As I wrote on Twitter February 4, followed by hash tags #whodat and #Saints, "Super Bowl mania hangs in the air, palpable like Mardi Gras beads in trees, like August here, thick and hot, like a good rain."
Those words are true. We're going to bed down here in NOLA hearing "Who Dat!" on the news and waking up to the same as the number of days to Super Bowl 44 decrease. We're dancing in the streets and weeping with smiles that Hurricane Katrina didn't kill this city after all. Business watchers say that this Saints-to-Super-Bowl, fleur-de-lis, who-dat air is a wondrous blast of life into New Orleans's lungs both economically and psychically.
Yes, we are so shamelessly enraptured that along with Mardi Gras festivities, Super Bowl joy is "overshadowing the mayor's race" in which citizens cast votes today. Our shouting and leaping even took over national news shows: Good Morning America's Robin Roberts reported "New Orleans: From Katrina to Super Bowl 44." Roberts is the younger sister of WWL TV New Orleans news co-anchor Sally-Ann Roberts, and both women remember the days when their father, Lawrence, lamented that the Saints seemed to excel at "snatching defeat from the jaws of victory."
That video ends with two sports analysts choosing the Indianapolis Colts to win Sunday, but they add that Saints fans shouldn't lose heart. They analysts promise that they're always wrong as Roberts turns to the New Orleans crowd live and fudges the truth, telling them the experts picked the Saints to win.
Cheers erupt and any onlooker who knows what the Saints and New Orleans have gone through over the years understands fans' rejection of loser talk. Beside "Who Dat!" another slogan for Saints fans has been one powerful word, "Believe!"
Rita Benson LeBlanc is a believer. She is part owner and executive vice president of the New Orleans Saints and is being hailed as one of the most powerful women in professional sports today. Yesterday, she spoke to CBS and echoed reports that Sunday's Super Bowl is not simply a game but a symbol of New Orleans being a city of survivors.
Maintaining faith -- betting on the Saints for more than 40 years, blessing the boys in Black 'n Gold even when people called them the Aints and grumbling fans attended games with paper bags over their heads, stubbornly returning to flooded land -- local Saints supporters see the team's journey to the Super Bowl as the natural reward of the faithful's long suffering. As recently as last year, the city successfully fought for the team, wooing its owner Tom Benson to keep the Saints in the Superdome and New Orleans through 2025.
The first payoff for sticking with the team, perhaps, was the city and State of Louisiana sewing up the deal to host the Super Bowl in 2013. Next, with the team's winning season, New Orleans saw a boost to its economy even before the Saints were Super Bowl bound.
As Super Bowl euphoria infects Saints local fans with all kinds of songs such as "Bring 'Em to the Dome," or "Get Crunk" and lovers of the city around the world join in the dance, kindred spirits flock to New Orleans. A NOLA.com reporter blogs that while the Super Bowl is being played in Miami, New Orleans hotels began to fill up as soon as the Saints won the National Football Conference game against the Vikings in January.
If early signs are any indication, hotels may see a bit of that spending, too. Calls for reservations began pouring into the Royal Sonesta Hotel almost instantly after Garrett Hartley's field goal in overtime cemented the Saints' position in the NFL's championship game, said Al Groos, the hotel's general manager. The hotel's balcony suites facing Bourbon Street, which don't typically sell out on a Sunday during the first weekend of Mardi Gras, were the first to go, Groos said.
"As soon as that ball went through the goal posts, the phone was ringing off the hook, " he said. The Royal Sonesta had booked 60 room reservations by early Monday morning. "I know the game is in Miami, but there are people who want to celebrate in New Orleans. The attraction is the city and the party." (Jaquetta White, The Times-Picayune)
The good news is impacting more than wallets, according to mental health professionals, who say the team's winning season bolsters the self-image of individuals. They predict the positive vibes will result in better productivity.
Beyond the city, Super Bowl excitement is making Katrina-tossed former residents homesick. New Orleans Fox 8 reporter Jennifer Hale spoke to real estate professionals who said after the "winning kick" that made the Saints NFC champions, their offices began getting calls from people who want to come back home.
NOLA realtor Arthur Sterbcow told Fox 8 that Super Bowl attention is not only calling former residents homeward, but it may also lure newcomers.
Sterbcow's real estate agency tracks trends.
He says the bigger the event and the more publicity it gets, like Jazz Fest or Mardi Gras, the more people his agency sees in the coming months looking for housing.
"Especially young people who come to visit and decide "Hey, I like it down here. This is a place I'd like to come live," says Sterbcow.
Sterbcow thinks the Super Bowl may be the biggest event yet for New Orleans. (Jennifer Hale reporting for Fox 8)
For the faithful who returned or never left, the Super Bowl bounty may pay unexpected dividends, reports Bigad Shaban for WWL TV. He tells viewers in the video below that the Saints have given the city hope and happiness and a reason to second line and dress in costumes, including men in drag, even more, but "the success of the Saints could also help New Orleans tackle some other very serious issues, from strengthening the criminal justice system to building playgrounds and eradicating blight."
Shaban interviews Cynthia Hedge-Morrell, the city council budget chair, who says New Orleans could walk away with an extra million dollars in sales tax revenue due to the influx of tourists who would rather be in New Orleans than in Miami. The spending from the last two playoff games alone may have added $1.5 million to the city's revenue, according to the news report.
In addition to being a boon to the city, the Super Bowl spotlight is expected to boost the whole state of Louisiana:
Economic Development Secretary Stephen Moret spent part of his afternoon, proofing national print ads that will run this week in the Wall Street Journal, New York Times and other major newspapers.
The ads portray the Saints as a metaphor for other good things happening in the state.
"This is really a huge win for our state, not just for the Saints and fans that supported them for so long, but it is a big economic win for the state of Louisiana as well, and we're really working hard to take as much advantage of that as we can to use this as a tool for our economic development efforts," said Moret. (full story with video)
This past November, writing lightly on superstition and the New Orleans Saints at my blog, I said:
"If the Saints go to the Super Bowl, you'd better believe this city, this state, maybe even people across the nation, will hold a party that makes Mardi Gras look like a small town prom. And naturally, faith will get the credit. (WSATA)
Other New Orleanians raise me on that prediction, saying a win for the Saints on Sunday will be as big as the end of the world.
But we've already won. Our story of what appeared to be a broken city cheering on a lost-cause team is filling people with hope and spilling beyond Who Dat Nation in ways that can only be called blessings. One sign of that is the recent news that more than 500,000 people, undoubtedly some fans of resurrection stories, took the time to vote for New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees in the Pepsi Refresh Project grant competition. He won, and as a result the American Cancer Society's Hope Lodge in New Orleans gets $100,000. Hope Lodge provides accomodations for cancer patients and their families when treatment is far from home.
Brees's story itself is one of taking chances and rising. He came to the city six months after Katrina amid concerns about his shoulder surgery, passing up a "better" team for the Saints, which had just finished a "dismal season." It was risky business, but he's made New Orleans and victory his own.
At this moment, New Orleans's story smells more like good news and less like misery despite our knowing that the next mayor, whoever that is, has stormy financial weather ahead. But I guess the city's Orishas still whisper in our dreams, "Believe." Consequently, we see the Super Bowl party start just in time.
As one New Orleanian suggested on CNN, this time the world's eyes fall upon us and instead of sinking in disaster, we rise with the hand of providence to tell a happier story: "People still look at New Orleans as recovering from the storm," said the woman, "This will let them know we're open for business." Or as Sterbcow told Fox 8, people will say, "WOW! ... New Orleans came back. They're REALLY back!"
- Bursting Pride in Super Bowl Team Replenishes a City, New York Times
- The Daily Start-Up: Who Dat! A New Orleans Seed Fund
- Drew Brees Teams Up With Pampers
- Fourth Anniversary of Katrina: We're Still Here
- Stop saying you don't know where 'Who Dat?' came from.
- Rachel Maddow Gets It
- The Saints, the Super Bowl, and "Cool Runnings"
- In New Orleans, Rise of Saints Symbolic of City, NPR
- If the Saints Go Marching In, CNN
- Rebranding New Orleans
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