At the Super Bowl, Cheering for New Orleans

Superdome, New Orleans Superdome, NFL stadium, New Orleans football stadium

Mary Dell writes: The Super Bowl returns to New Orleans on Sunday and I am a lucky holder of a ticket for a seat right next to my husband.  While it’s a business trip for him, not so for me. I admit it: though I love football, my excitement is less the game and more the venue. Instead of picking between the ‘49ers and Ravens, I’ll be cheering for New Orleans.

NOLA and I go way back though it has been decades since I’ve visited. I feel about the city like I do about a distant, somewhat exotic, favorite cousin whom I very rarely see. So it sits in that wispy section of my memory, the part with more shadows than clear lines. It’s lodged with other places I knew well when I was young and have never returned to, like the town where my grandparents lived.

But my New Orleans memories are lively ones. My first time there was on a college road trip taken over a New Year’s Eve weekend.  We attended a party at a friend of a friend’s house Uptown near Audubon Park. The live oaks surrounding the home dripped with Spanish moss. I nibbled on a casserole of oysters and eggplant served out of a silver tureen. There seemed to be no risk of the champagne running dry.

We had tickets for the Sugar Bowl on New Year’s Day. Heisman Trophy winner Tony Dorsett ran through the Georgia Bulldogs defense to lead Pitt to victory and a National Championship. Road trip, party, bowl game – truly, one amazing college weekend.

Two years later I returned to New Orleans but this time on my first job where my beginner’s expense account covered the cost of a hotel room.  It was a welcome bit of luxury after traveling around the Louisiana Bayou touring remote locations on behalf of my oil patch employer. When driving to one company office, housed on a barge docked at a pier, I met a fellow employee. He was marching along with a shotgun over his shoulder looking to bag an alligator he had seen down the road.  He looked at me in my dress-for-success suit and I glanced at his bib overalls, one strap undone. Nothing in the employee manual prepared me for that encounter.

I have one more sweet memory that I cannot resist including, although I was nowhere near the city when it occurred.  New Orleans hosted the Super Bowl last in 2002, four months after 9/11. My husband, again, had tickets and invited not me but my father as his +1.

By this point in his life, my-then 77-year old dad was a little frail and my mother and I fretted about him going. We wondered if he had the stamina to manage all the walking and we anguished over how intense the new security procedures would be.  In every way the trip was an amazing adventure for Dad, teaching me that hovering over an aging parent (who was still quite capable of traveling) was not really necessary or particularly helpful.

And then, in 2005, Katrina. How can we not all root for NOLA after seeing the terrible sights of death and destruction caused by the storm?  Having just lived through an awful hurricane of our own this fall, Katrina’s force is much more tangible to me now. I’m desperate to replace pictures and TV video of the Superdome, turned decrepit, terrifying shelter, with the sight of a Super Bowl-ready venue.

So, yes, I’m already rooting for New Orleans.  Can’t wait to pack a bag for the Super Bowl and revisit this city, retracing my steps, restocking my memory.

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