NEW ORLEANS — I have covered every Super Bowl since XIII in Miami in January of 1979, the “Jackie Smith game” in which the Steelers beat the Cowboys, 35-31. It occurred to me on my flight to New Orleans for Super Bowl XLVII that makes this my 35th consecutive Super Bowl, and round numbers are sometimes cool. So does that make me cool, experienced, accomplished, relevant, special, and meaningful or something else? For the most part, I think it just makes me old, but blessed with some great memories, and many, if not most of them, of New Orleans.
My third Super Bowl in January of 1981 was my first visit to New Orleans and was special because Al Davis had taken me under his wing after my dad passed away and his Raiders were there to win their second Super Bowl in three tries, beating Dick Vermeil’s Philadelphia Eagles 27-10. John Matuszak and Bob Chandler taught me how the big boys played during the daytime and the night, and Pat Obrien’s introduced me to my first Hurricane. By my fourth Super Bowl, I decided the incredibly hot young lady I was dating back home was going to be my wife, and 32 years and three kids later, she is to this day. That was my best Super Bowl ever.
When we returned five years later, Pro Football Weekly was wrapping up the most difficult year in our history, but I had a burgeoning broadcast career having begun hosting the pre-, halftime- and post-game shows on the Chicago Bears Radio network, and it was the legendary ‘85 Bears the world came to see that year. I was born and raised in Chicago, live there to this day and that week was a party and a team New Orleans, Chicago and the NFL has never forgotten, and probably never will.
It only took four years to get back to New Orleans again, and when the 49ers and Joe Montana showed up to defend the title they’d won the year before in Miami, and the Broncos came to make their third appearance in four years and attempt to finally break their maiden, many expected the greatest Super Bowl of all time. What we got instead was an exclamation point on the legacy of Joe Montana, as San Francisco set a Super Bowl record that stands today by putting up 55 points in a 55-10 rout of John Elway and Company that was over in the first quarter.
Following the Niners’ demolition of Denver, New Orleans suffered its longest Super Bowl drought in the game’s history to that point, waiting seven years before we returned for XXXI ,which would feature a young gunslinger at quarterback for the Green Bay Packers named Brett Favre, and a New England team looking to atone for the embarrassment it had suffered in its only other Super Bowl, the trouncing it took from the Bears in ’86. What I remember most about that one was the way the Cheeseheads took the French Quarter by storm and my introduction to ladies of all make and model baring their breasts for 99-cent strings of beads. What could be better than the Quarter at Super Bowl time, aye?
We were back five years later for XXXVI, and so were the Patriots. What are the odds the Pats’ first three Super Bowls would all be in New Orleans? This time they’d challenge Kurt Warner and the “Greatest Show on Turf,” who had won their first ring two years earlier over the Titans in Atlanta. And the game would produce one of the Super Bowl’s bigger upsets when some unknown, young pup named Tom Brady would light the torch of a new dynasty.
Then the good times stopped rolling. On the morning of Monday, August 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina rolled through New Orleans destroying huge chunks of the Gulf Coast and killing over 1,800 people. The Convention Center and Superdome, which host this year’s game and week, were the epicenter of a very different story back in ’05, and many wondered if the city would ever recover and if the Saints would even return, let alone the Super Bowl.
Just when things looked the bleakest, Saints owner Tom Benson and then-NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue stepped up to announce the NFL would lead New Orleans’ renaissance rather than be a symbol of its demise. After the 2009 season, the Saints won their first-ever Super Bowl, and now, 11 years since the last Super Bowl played here, we are back in the “Big Easy,” where the world’s greatest annual sports event and entertainment vehicle truly belongs.
In each of my five previous visits to New Orleans for Super Bowls, I have written at some point during the week I believe it should be the permanent home of the game, and I believe that more today than ever. At its core, the Super Bowl is a huge party, and nowhere that I’ve ever traveled do folks know how to party like they do in New Orleans. It is undeniably the only Super Bowl venue where everything you could possibly want is within walking distance — plenty of quality hotel rooms, some of the best food in the world, the Superdome, the French Quarter, the greatest jazz in the world (and plenty of soul-churning blues, as well), the Mighty Mississippi River and, most importantly, the New Orleans metropolitan area boasts about 1.17 million of the most charming and courageous people I’ve ever seen.
This Super Bowl XLVII is about so much more than the Ravens, 49ers and football, and it’s about more than the party everyone wants to be at. It’s about a city laid to waste, one many thought forever scarred, and its people who refused to move on, refused to forget and refused to quit. New Orleans today is a symbol of what America yearns to be and what we as Americans strive to accomplish. I do love this city and even more, I love that we are all back where we belong. Now we can truly let the good times roll.