From the back of the bar, a voice bellowed: “Take the three, Sean Payton, don’t be stupid, take the three.”
It was Super Bowl Sunday in New Orleans at the Maple Leaf Tavern on Oak Street. The Maple Leaf is normally a funky, little music bar. But, this day, the stage was converted into a huge TV screen. Fans, almost all decked out in black and gold, cheered and jeered, as the 44th Super Bowl, played nine years ago, streamed on the screen. Payton didn’t take the field goal. He went for it, didn’t make it but he would have the last laugh. So would the fans who jeered him.
Never mind that the 53rd Super Bowl LIII was taking place in Atlanta at that very moment. New Orleans always has danced to its own rhythm and that has never been more true than this past weekend.
Let the rest of the nation watch the Patriots choke off the Rams, New Orleans did its own thing.
In New Orleans, they were calling this “the Boycott Bowl.” If not for a horrible call in the NFC Championship Game, the Saints would have been playing in Atlanta.
So Saints fans created their own Super Bowl, a replay of the one nine years ago. And they did it up right. There was a huge, second line parade through the French Quarter attended by tens of thousands of Who Dats. There was a huge block party and music concert in the Warehouse District, attended by thousands more.
And the large majority of bars across the city showed replays of the Super Bowl nine years ago instead of the one in Atlanta.
Normally, New Orleans is the highest rated TV market for the NFL. That’s because Saints fans are so loyal. So maybe that explains why the overnight ratings of Super Bowl LIII nationally fell three points from the year before. Surely, it’s because Saints fans chose not to be in that number.
The headline on The Times Picayune newspaper’s webpage told the story: “New England wins the Super Bowl, but New Orleans wins the day!”
Reminds me of the same newspaper’s headline during the Great Flood when flood waters, said the newspaper, “threaten to cut the world off from New Orleans” – not vice versa.
A personal note probably should go here: I had watched all 52 previous Super Bowls, attended 29 of those in person. I covered that one in Miami where Payton had the last laugh nine years ago.
This time, I didn’t watch a play. I decided, instead, to see how New Orleans would react. I wasn’t disappointed, nor surprised. At the second line parade, many people dressed up as their favorite Saints players but quite a few dressed as NFL officials. The fake zebras were, of course, blind.
Watching the Super Bowl XLIV. replay, I couldn’t help but notice how much the Saints have changed since that championship season. Payton’s still the coach. Drew Brees is still the quarterback. Thomas Morstead is still the punter. But just about all else has changed.
And you forget how good some of those former Saints were, guys such as running back Pierre Thomas, wide receiver Marques Colston, tight end Jeremy Shockey, linebacker Jonathan Vilma and so many more.
Thing is, the current Saints are a better team as a whole. They have more weapons; they are better defensively.
We’ll never know how they would have done in a Super Bowl against the Patriots, but we know they couldn’t have done much worse than the Rams. And we know that if it hadn’t been for that one miserable officiating call, the Saints would have played in the sport’s biggest game.
This past Sunday, New Orleans let the NFL know how it felt. The city did it in a way it best knows how: with a parade, a concert and a city-wide party.
Leave it to New Orleans to turn a travesty into a party. At the Maple Leaf, heaping piles of crawfish and sausage were served post-game. The beer flowed. And then the band played on well into Monday morning.
Rick Cleveland (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a Jackson-based syndicated columnist.