Super Bowl 2013: New Orleans braces for Roger Goodell's return

Chris Graythen

Sean Payton is back, the Atlanta Falcons lost and it's looking more and more like the city of New Orleans is ready to put aside BountyGate and party along with the NFL. All should be well for Super Bowl 47, as long as the giant papier-måché vaginas don't show up again. Gotta watch out for those.

"It's in a warehouse right now," assures Gunner Guidry, a 36-year-old architect from Plaquemine, La., who along with friend and fellow professional architect Chris Berry, a 32-year-old from New Orleans, helped design a parade float they call "Super Hole XLVAG."

It features NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, pained look on his face and Lombardi Trophy in his hand, crawling out of a giant vagina with a disco ball for a clitoris:

Mandy-1_medium

photo courtesy of Mandy Thomas.

It took three paintings to get it "just right." Guidry said the first time it was "too offensive ... it's kind of hard to get just right," and that a surprising amount of glitter was needed, too.

Guidry and Berry are a part of Mystic Krewe of Inane, a sub-krewe of Krewe du Vieux, who paraded through the city last weekend as part of an adjusted Mardi Gras season schedule. Various parades and Mardi Gras events have been shuffled around Super Bowl 47, the tenth Super Bowl the city has hosted and the first since the Mercedes-Benz Superdome was renovated in 2006 after damage from storms, high winds and refugees from the floods caused by nearby Hurricane Katrina.

And there's that whole BountyGate thing, that most fans, Guidry and Berry included, feel stripped the New Orleans Saints of a chance to play for a world championship in their own stadium. Hence the giant vagina and the reviled Commish on Saturday night that made national news.

"It's in a warehouse and it will stay there for the rest of the year. We might use it for other events, or maybe a charity event," Guidry says.

"Or we could take it back out," Berry says with a laugh.

"Yeah, we could take it right down Poydras [Street, in front of the Superdome] next Sunday," Guidry laughs.

***

Pretty much everyone in New Orleans hates the Atlanta Falcons. It is a hatred, certainly, but a New Orleans kind of hate. The NFL's Great Southern Rivalry is very contentious, but more jubilant and mischievous and harmlessly obnoxious than a Giants/Eagles tailgate in The Meadowlands. There are obscenities hurled, but not batteries. Food and drink is shared.

But the Falcons are hated, and hate is an activity, a verb. Mark Samuels, president of Basin Street Records, is especially good at it. As a lifelong Atlanta Falcons fan, I've been jabbing back and forth with Samuels for years:

Accordingly, Samuels is one of a legion of residential New Orleans fans breathing a sigh of relief after the San Francisco 49ers eliminated the Falcons from playing in a New Orleans Super Bowl, but not (just) for the black and gold reasons. Had hated Atlanta advanced to its second Super Bowl in the city of New Orleans in the same season that the local team was stripped of its head coach for an entire year, future draft picks to come and lost a variety of players and assistant coaches to a battery of varying suspensions and appeals, it would've certainly been a recipe for random combustions between locals and the visiting rival fans. Look through the Super Bowl records -- a direct division rival has never invaded its foe's stadium for the biggest event in American sports.

"I actually hope that, and this goes for Atlanta too, that no matter who comes, that we welcome everyone with open arms," Samuels said last Saturday afternoon. "But yes, it would be worse with Atlanta because we have such a good rivalry with them. It would be a matter of dealing with every little encounter in a bar, just one or two people each time, that's all it takes."

Basin Street Records is home to Kermit Ruffins (of "Treme" fame) and Rebirth Brass Band among others, and a slate of Basin Street artists wil be involved in various official and unofficial events surrounding the Super Bowl. Ruffins took the stage with Dave Matthews Band during the NFL Kickoff concert in 2009, and has become a national celebrity thanks to "Treme." ("All I can say is, it's some very cool stuff," Samuels assures.) Just like Basin Street Records, there's an endless number of businesses tethered to the Super Bowl for profit, and team loyalties aside, the economic impact of an incident-free Super Bowl is most concerning.

Thanks to San Francisco's victory, Atlanta is a moot point, but the dread was palpable before Sunday afternoon -- so much so that Samuels made an eerie, prophetic prediction.

"I think [Goodell] is going to soften the blow. I think he'll reinstate Payton before the game."

He was right.

***
In reality, bad service in the French Quarter or the inevitable booing of Roger Goodell in public won't cause the league to revoke future Super Bowls from one of its favorite host cities. But this is New Orleans, where papier-måché vaginas and deliberately offensive costumes are the order of self-expression. And it's not Goodell New Orleans should be worried about, anyway.

Organizers claim there were no official meetings held regarding the Who Dats v. Goodell issue, but even with the reinstatement of Payton there's considerable concern that large events surrounding the actual game -- especially those outdoors -- could fall prey to some sort of protest or stunt. A coordinator for a local organization assisting corporate sponsors requested anonymity when admitting the real concern for the city:


Canal Street Chronicles: Roger Goodell in hindsight


"The Super Bowl is bigger than any other sporting event specifically because of its corporate participation. You have large scale events that cost millions ... I'd say you're more likely to anger the league by interfering there than anywhere else. Don't piss off the money."

Specifically, the concern lies in "clean zones," areas around the game site or venues featuring TV broadcasts. "Clean zones" are attempts by networks, the NFL and sponsors to homogenize public areas and regulate outside merchants and advertisers. Sometimes that's as simple as removing Coca-Cola items from a Pepsi-sponsored event. But New Orleans isn't simple. Its constituency is angry at the NFL, and it's a culture renowned for encouraging the construction of expressive items such as a giant papier-måché vagina birthing a league official.

"Certainly krewes have a wicked, witty sense of humor, but that's our culture, and to that end so is hospitality," says James Carville, city resident, Democratic strategist and general embodiment of Louisiana zeitgeist. "A Mardi Gras float is a Mardi Gras float, it's that simple ... I think the average person in New Orleans is happy people are coming to their city. That's the overwhelming thing, that people are coming, that progress is being made. Look, Coach Payton was very gracious in his statement this week and I have to tell you, I think in most people's minds, the page is turned and it's time to get on to the game."

Carville is a member of the executive committee of the Greater New Orleans Sports Foundation, the group that lobbies for and oversees Super Bowls and sporting events like the NCAA Final Four and the New Orleans Bowl. The GNOSF also took the PR front as the game has neared, reminding angry Saints fans just what kind of tactile improvements have been made to everyday aspects of the city specifically because of the Super Bowl. GNOSF President Jay Cicero says the estimated economic impact will be $434 million, a number calculated by a study from the University of New Orleans commissioned in 2009.

"... and I'd say that number's even bigger now, given the age of that study," Cicero adds. "We're well aware of what's on the line next week, because as soon as we're done here, we'll start assembling a bid to host our 11th Super Bowl. The first available date is 2018, which would coincide with our city's 300th anniversary. What Katrina did was make us appreciate these events more. We hosted nine of the first 36 Super Bowls, then none for 11 years. We don't take it for granted anymore," Cicero said Tuesday.

His figures have to soften the bitterness of any 7-9 football season: a $350 million renovation of the airport, with the very last project -- an on-site rental car facility -- finished Wednesday. Also there has been a $75 million renovation of the nearby New Orleans Convention Center, an overhaul and re-certification of all the city's registered taxis, various street construction projects and the completion of a new streetcar line.

"Most of these projects have all culminated in the last month. You ask what my biggest concern is, and normally it would be a construction project finishing on deadline. But we're ready. Our biggest concern right now is that someone has to spend 20 minutes getting from the airport to downtown."

"Deadlines are a very good thing for this city," Carville adds.

***
New Orleans wants you to know that Roger Goodell is not back in anyone's good graces, but they're also determined to show folks a good time. The NFL wants to join in that narrative too. Upon request, a league spokesman issued the following statement:
Everyone here at the league office, including the Commissioner, is excited about returning to New Orleans for the Super Bowl. We have been planning for years for this Super Bowl and are excited to help show the world that New Orleans is back, bigger and better than ever.
When asked about Goodell receiving any additional security or possible revisions in his normal schedule, the league stated that they "don't discuss security arrangements for any employees," but "The Commissioner usually goes down later in the week. The annual news conference is on Friday as always."

Imagine the look of a Saints fan most likely to hunt a high ranking sports official for sport and it might be Voodoo Man, the face-painted hardcore Who Dat who by day is David Davis, a 42-year-old medic aboard an offshore derrick in the Gulf of Mexico. He doesn't make absolutely every home game, but Davis has been Voodoo Man (below, pictured left) "since the bad days, the 3-13 years."

296751_2092495880934_1501393747_31795150_795851161_n_medium

But even a picture-perfect face of the zealous fan base is indifferent to causing any sort of drama.

"New Orleans really is about letting the good times roll. I'm not going to waste my time with Roger Goodell. If there's people wanting to go track him down and do something, I'd tell them the real best revenge is coming back next year and blowing them away, winning the Super Bowl again."

Davis said he'll be out and about enjoying the week's festivities but Voodoo Man won't appear -- "He's strictly a Saints thing. It's respect to our team and to others playing here."

Davis, a grown man renowned for assuming an alter ego to attend NFL games, provides the most logical stance on the city and its conflict over taking the NFL's charity the same year it handicapped their football team.

"Look, this is the first time since Katrina we can show people around the world that we’re not underwater, that that was, what, seven years ago now And why would you go to a city and spend money to have a bad time? I’ve been to cities like that, I’ve been to New York a few times, and I don't want to go back.

"You always want people to come back to New Orleans."
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