NEW ORLEANS – In preparation for Super Bowl XLVII, the Baltimore Ravens practiced on the baseball field at Tulane University this week, and the NFL installed black netting up around the field so the team could keep its game plan secret. There is, after all, nothing like a Super Bowl surprise.
There has never been a Super Bowl surprise, however, like the one discovered here at Tulane, not far from where the Ravens went through their preparation this week. You see, Tulane Stadium used to be where the Super Bowl was played – three of the first nine, in fact. And around the time when the place was torn down, two bodies were found underneath the stadium. Their names are Got Thothi Aunk and Nefer Atethu.
"They attended every Tulane home game from 1955 until the last Wave appearance in Tulane Stadium in 1974," the Tulanian declared in 1999. "They were present at all three Super Bowls and dozens of New Orleans Saints games waged on Tulane turf. And they never once complained about their lousy seats."
But before we get to the mummies, let's get to the stadium. Because what's kind of sad about this ghoulish tale is that the mummies were kept and their home for decades was condemned.
Tulane Stadium opened way back in 1926 and continually expanded to become the biggest sports venue in the south, holding more than 80,000 fans. Its size made it a draw for the Super Bowl, which had only been played three times – in Miami and Los Angeles – before coming to New Orleans. Long before it was known as the home of Super Bowl IV, VI and IX, however, it was known as the Sugar Bowl. That game was played here for the first time, on January 1, 1935.
There's even some cool history to that, as "Sugar Bowl" is meant quite literally. Tulane Stadium was built in the shape of a bowl, and it sat on a former sugar plantation. It was a bowl on top of sugar.
Want more? The Saints played their first-ever game in Tulane Stadium, way back in 1967. They remained here until 1974, and perhaps the greatest single play in the stadium's history came in 1970, when Tom Dempsey kicked a 63-yard field goal for the Saints. That spot is now in the middle of an intramural field, in the shadow of a parking structure.
[Related: How the Super Bowl got its Roman numerals]
Funny thing is, the greatest night in the stadium's history, at least in the minds of people here, came not in a Saints game, or in a Sugar Bowl, or in a Super Bowl. It was the night in 1973 when Tulane beat LSU 14-0 to break a 25-year losing streak against its intrastate rival. Green Wave fans screamed for the better part of an hour after that game. That Tulane win set the all-time record for stadium attendance: 86,598 – nearly 6,000 more people than the place could supposedly hold.
"It was extremely emotional," said Bill Curl, the former sports information director at Tulane. "Fans came back the next day to sit in the seats and just think about the last night."
That's not to say the Super Bowl history here was forgettable. Len Dawson led the Chiefs to an upset of the Vikings in Tulane Stadium in Super Bowl IV. That was the first time a head coach, Kansas City's Hank Stram, had been mic'd for sound in the Super Bowl. Two years later, the Cowboys crushed the Dolphins in a game that featured the first time the Super Bowl logo was painted at midfield. And the Steelers won their first-ever Super Bowl here in 1975. That was the year the Superdome opened, and Tulane Stadium was condemned.
The old steel building was destroyed in 1980, leaving behind a legacy that changed the city forever. The sports mecca we all know now would never have existed if not for Tulane Stadium. The Saints, and their own Super Bowl win, would likely have happened in some other city.
But enough of the football history. Time for some real history.
The mummies came to American in 1850, thanks to a former American vice-consul in Cairo named George Gliddon who put together a kind of traveling Egyptian artifact show. He hired looters to bring a dozen mummies from Egypt to the U.S., yet only two made it. In front of 2,000 onlookers in 1850, he started to unwrap the mummies, who he said were women. One of them, to his dismay and to everyone's surprise, turned out to be a man. Gliddon was disgraced.
He came to New Orleans to work on his theory that mankind came not from one source, but multiple sources. In other words, as former Tulane anthropology graduate student Guido Lombardi tells the Tulanian, Gliddon was a "scientific racist." In the early 1850s, Gliddon donated the mummies to the university and fled the country.
For the next century, the mummies moved around. They were housed at multiple museums on campus and eventually at the school's math department. Then, in the 1950s, the math department moved and there was no place for the ancient couple. So they were stored in a dark room underneath the bleachers at Tulane Stadium.
And, for the most part, they were forgotten.
Then, when the grand old place came down, a school curator named Bill Cullison walked into the room where the mummies had "attended" three Super Bowls.
"This was a tin building with a dirt floor in the area under the bleachers," Cullison told the Tulanian. "The mummies were sitting on top of their sarcophagi in a glass case."
It wasn't until the '90s when Lombardi – the graduate student – went to work on learning more about the mummies. He concluded the man was around age 50 when he died, and the woman was a teenager who probably died during a difficult childbirth. They lived around 900 B.C. The Egyptians believed in an afterlife, but they didn't imagine an afterlife that included admission to see Archie Manning, Roger Staubach and Terry Bradshaw.
So who are the mummies picking this Sunday? Glad you asked. Because the man who brought them to this country, way back in the middle of the 19th century, was a bit of a celebrity in his time. George Gliddon even had a character in a 1845 story called "Some Words With A Mummy."
The man who wrote that story turned out to be quite famous because of a poem he wrote that very year. It was Edgar Allen Poe, author of "The Raven," the man whose work inspired the name of the team practicing this week at Tulane for the Super Bowl.
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