On January 13th, 2019 I finally popped my NFL cherry* and it was a good one too, the NFC Divisional title game between the Philadelphia Eagles and the New Orleans Saints.
I’m very pleased to add that New Orleans was the home team, because that means I woke up that morning in my favourite city in all of the US of A.
I had awoken at six-something and stayed in bed until seven. I got up and googled the local grocers and was pleased to see they were already open. I wanted to buy a Saints t-shirt before the game and thought I could pick up some more beers too.
Along the way I really started to appreciate being back in New Orleans. I sure do love mornings, and mornings in cities are sometimes especially cool. All the empty sidewalks, the unrevolving revolving doors, the shops with “Closed” signs hanging in the window; it all shows so much potential, and it’s exciting.
And so I virtually skipped along the sidewalks, wishing everyone I met (which wasn’t many) a hearty and happy “good morning” and gleefully plucking a shirt, a bag of coffee, another case of beer and some fillings for hotel-made omelettes into my shopping cart. $50 later I was back bouncing along the street, which was already starting to wake up with morning pigskin revellers.
After I made a pair of excellent omelettes I posited the following: “Hmm…I suppose a Jack & Coke can’t hurt, can it?” I meant it as a rhetorical question. M’lady didn’t take it as one.
“Well, it could hurt,” she stated, matter-of-factly. “”It could set you on a path that leads to too many beers, wooo! crazy shooters! and even more hooray! beers, and then you could be staggering and we won’t get in the game and you could fall down and break your something or other.
“And besides, it’s only 10am!” she concluded, somewhat triumphantly.
“No,” I said, checking my computer. “It’s 11am.”
“Oh,” she replied, looking at her Fitbit. “I guess the clock automatically updated…”
So, with Jack Daniel’s in hand I hopped in the shower (totally trumping the previous day’s shower beer), put on my new Saints t-shirt, grabbed a sack of beers for the walk, and just like that we were out the door.
We aimed ourselves in the general direction of the Superdome and stopped into the first tailgate fiesta we found. We stood around sipping on the beers we had brought while revellers revelled around us. At one point a synchronized line dance started up right beside us. I had to pull m’lady out of the way as a group of eight or ten (mostly) women almost sashayed right over her.
We soon moved on to another lot party, and then a third, and while I was happy to duck out of the blistering wind and under the cover of a ring of motor homes the parties didn’t seem very social. We decided to move on to the official party in Champion’s Square where a full stage manned by New Orleans mainstay Big Sam’s Funky Nation and a string of overpriced food and drink kiosks awaited.
But first we dashed into a coffeeshop just outside of the Superdome. Inside I found two curious things that I don’t usually find in a coffeeshop: 1) a bar (m’lady bought herself a mimosa), and 2) a guard (wo)manning the barricaded-off bathrooms who meticulously checked receipts before admitting anyone to the prized toilet area.
This exclusivity inspired me to use the bathroom twice, just because (my receipt said) I could.
We lingered over coffee and mimosa while I warmed up a little and we still left with plenty of time to check out the pre-festivities in Champion’s Square. I couldn’t help but notice that everybody (and I do mean everybody) was decked out in team merchandise from head to toe. I mean nobody wasn’t wearing their team’s colours. I got a lot of sideways looks from people that were unable to see through my sweater and onto the new New Orleans Saints tee I was wearing beneath it, and it made me a bit uncomfortable. As soon as we got inside the door of the venue I tied my sweater around my waist Pearl Jam-style and proudly thrust my logo-encrusted chest forward.
(Though I instantly regretted going for the grey shirt. Everyone [and again, I mean everyone] was wearing the team colours of black and gold. Oops.)
Speaking of getting into the venue, we did so quickly, in two manners of speaking. First, we decided not to linger outside very long so we headed to the gate in short order, and when we did so we got in the door with an absolute minimum of lining up and/or waiting. The staff was clearly doing a good job.
Inside we checked out the main level for a spell before heading up up up the escalator to our seats in the 600’s (along the way m’lady found a real-life actual ticket stub on the floor. She handed it to me under the threat that I had to remain nice to her if I wanted to keep it. I will so I did). When we found our seats we were both impressed with our selection; we had a nice overhead view of the turf right around the thirty yard line.
The field below us was massive, and it was so well-lit it seemed to glow. The arced domed roof overhead was even more massive, so much so it’s suspension seemed truly unlikely. Topping both end zones was a pair of identical big screens that each must have been 175 feet long, at least. The screens told us we had an hour to kill before the game started and the time went quickly.
Now here’s a coincidence: For Christmas my mother had given m’lady a pair of funny gloves that had pom-poms on the tips of each finger. She also gave a pair to my nephew’s wife. When she had purchased the gloves in Maine for $5 a pair she hadn’t noticed that they were NFL merchandise, and whattya know, the pair that she gifted to m’lady were official New Orleans Saints gear (the other pair were from the Seattle Seahawks). M’lady loved the gloves and we were both expecting to see thousands of people wearing them.
Not only was nobody else wearing anything like them, everyone that noticed them made quite a big deal about them, taking pictures of the gloves and asking where she had gotten them. It was fun to walk behind her and see everyone point at her gloves as she walked by. I mean, those gloves were the hit of the pregame. I think they also took a little bit of attention away from my logo-less sweater.
Back in the dome, we bought ourselves some lunch and a couple of beers and watched as half of the field was taken up by a hundred people carrying a pair of Saints banners while an aisle of fireworks was set up in preparation for the home team’s arrival on the field.
When the Eagles came out there was a bit of booing, but I was quite unprepared for the astounding response that met the Saints as they ran out from their dugout. With fireworks blazing the crowd went wild, screaming so loud I literally couldn’t hear my own voice. Then suddenly, as if on some sort of unseen cue, the whole crowd screamed in perfect, holy unison:
“Who dat?!? Who dat!?! Who dat say dey gonna beat dem Saints!!!!”
We’re talking loud here, friends. I simply had never heard anything like it. It was amazing.
The national anthem was performed by the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, which was pretty darn cool, accompanied as it was by the unfurling of an American flag that took up half of the playing field. Then it was time for the coin toss.
Which we lost (of course I am now a Saints fan, so “they” have become “we”), which didn’t forebode well.
The Eagles kicked it to us, and our first play was a pass that was intercepted. A few plays later and the score was Eagles: 7, Saints: 0. Then after several incomplete passes the home team kicked it, soon the Eagles got another touchdown and just like that the Philadelphia team was up fourteen points and the Saints were boasting a total yard gain of zero.
Yet still the crowd got louder. It was the loudest crowd I could think of, with the possible exception of when the Canadians won the gold medal in men’s hockey in Vancouver in overtime. That was the only time I’ve heard anything close to what I heard constantly during this game in the Superdome. The volume was truly astounding, and it really made the game.
Well, so did the game itself, which was both fun and exciting.
When the first quarter ended we had no idea that the Eagles were done scoring for the day, but it was clear that the Saints had yet to do anything. By halftime the score was close: 14-10, following an excellent fake-punt/first down that in retrospect was the game changer.
I was kind of hoping for some semi-big stage act to play during the halftime show, like a mini-Superbowl sort of thing but I was wrong, and glad of it. Instead, the break was filled by a huge marching band that commandeered the field in a choreographed musical dance that was impressive, engaging, and tirelessly entertaining. I’m pretty sure it was my first live full-on marching band experience, and I totally get it now.
I know it’s silly but I kept thinking how large a space the group must require to rehearse. Then I would have to remind myself yet again that what they would need to rehearse was in fact a football field, and pretty much every college and high school in America would have one (or two) of those readily available.
Anyway, I loved it.
And then the rest of the game commenced and it was all fantastic, plus by then we had found a beer kiosk that sold IPA’s. In the third quarter the Saints touched down to take the lead but late in the fourth the Eagles were set to ruin things as they surged towards the Saints’ goal line only six points behind.
And then we intercepted the ball. To say that the crowd went bananas would be to forever overstate the value of even that greatest of fruits, which is to say that the crowd wailed like manic caged banshees. It was thunderous. A few plays later the Saints got a first down and I heard a man a hundred feet to my left scream, “We just won the game!”
And again with all the screaming!
Then the players did that kneel-down thing that footballers do when they want to win before a game is actually over, which soon brought all the players and coaches running onto the field to celebrate as the clock still ticked away.
(I’ve always found that a weird, unfortunate part of football. It’s gaming the game, like bidding $1 from contestants row in The Price Is Right. Sure I’d do it, but I don’t like watching others do it.)
My goodness, the whole experience was so, so damn fun. The streets after the game were just packed. I’m sure Bourbon Street was a madhouse. Well, it’s always a madhouse, but I’m sure it was madhouser. Regardless, we opted to slowly bee-line it back to our abode where we enjoyed a drink or two before heading next door to Ernst’s (again) for dinner. I loved my red beans & rice (when don’t I?) but I didn’t love our server, who didn’t bring our drinks until we were halfway done our meal and then poured my can of beer into a plastic cup and sent us on our way shortly after I swallowed my last morsel of dinner.
Then it was just a stroll next door to some nightcaps and a ridiculously early night.
Golly, what a great day we had, and what a great game. M’lady’s gloves were “it”.
*Alas, many years before this I had been handed the opportunity to go to the Superbowl with my good friend, who’s stepfather happened to be the head quarterback coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers. For reasons too asinine to mention I opted not to join him. The Steelers won, my friend was staying at the same hotel as the team and was invited to the private celebration party, and I missed out on what would likely stand as the second-greatest sports experience of this storied life of mine (next to the 2010 Gold medal hockey game of course). Again: alas.
Truly, it’s one of two great turndowns in my life. The other was when I turned down a chance to join my friend Evil on a trip to India, where he (we) would join the head buddhist abbot of Burma on a pilgrimage that began with getting his (our) head shaved under the original bodhi tree and becoming ordained as a monk and continued to all the major buddhist sites along Siddhartha’s path, and all of it as the sole (two) white dudes in a parade of Burmese monks. I can’t believe I didn’t do this. I had the money saved and everything. Double alas.