In 2013 I was asking around about the enthusiasm for the seemingly up-and-coming New Orleans NBA team. But I was told, in no uncertain terms:
“Don’t get it confused. This is a football town”.
New Orleans is obviously known for many things other than sports. The Jazz music on Frenchman St, the busy nightlife in and around Bourbon St, the French, Native American & African American cultural influence, the food, the laid-back attitude of the locals as well as the connectedness to their history. Also the resilience of the people in recovering from Hurricane Katrina – a natural disaster so significant that its impact can still be seen today in some neighbourhooks.
But, according to some locals, nothing brought the people of New Orleans together quite like the New Orleans Saints’ 2009 NFL Superbowl win. “The whole city became one, doesn’t matter who you were”.
The Fleur-de-lis logo is visible on every street in New Orleans. More often than not, it is in the Saints colours. Saints flags hang on every street in the French Quarter, right up there with the United States or Louisiana official state flags.
If you’re lucky enough to get a ticket to the Superdome to see a Saints game, you’ll see the fans passion first-hand. If not, you can always attend one of the many Sports Bars in the CBD, such as the ‘Walk-On’ or the ‘Extreme Sports Bar & Grille’ in at the Ambassador Hotel.
Otherwise, your best bet is to pack into the French Quarter dressed in something identifying you as a Saints fan. If you’re looking for something different – try walking to Washington Square before a Saints game. Rumour has it the locals will tailgate the area – packing in with their cars and BBQs to throw a neighbourhood party to support the team together.
In 2006, in the Saints first home game back at the Superdome after the devastation of Katrina, a punt was intercepted off the boot by Steve Gleason. This moment is now referred to as “the revival”, a statue near the entrance of the Superdome. According to the locals, it signaled a symbolic revival of the team as well as the whole city. That is how much the people of New Orleans identify with their NFL team.
It must be said that the Louisiana State University team is also well represented in New Orleans shop windows and houses. They clearly have a large, passionate following. Similarly, the New Orleans NBA team since switching to the Pelicans name and logo (to reflect the state flag) as well as a more prominent use of the Fleur-de-lis logo – not to mention a young up-and-coming roster (“the Brow”) – will ensure that support for the Pelicans grows in years to come.
But for now, though, New Orleans is most definitely a football town.