The way I usually describe Super Bowl weekend in Miami is, "It's surreal when I think of how many times I've used the word surreal to describe how surreal the whole thing was." So, how was Super Bowl weekend in Miami for me? It was surreal.
Almost as soon as I had landed in Miami, I began seeing bus stops adorned with the fleur de lis. There it was, in black and gold, demanding your attention. There were billboards and other clever placements of the Saints insignia almost everywhere I went. The message was clear: This Super Bowl belongs to the New Orleans Saints! Mike Ornstein, the marketing maestro, drew up this battle plan with Sean Payton and Saints management and then implemented it like a combat general. In addition to making fans feel good, it told our guys that they could own this game. It told the Colts that they were living in a black and gold world.
I was lucky enough to have a room in the hotel that housed the players' families. It was just a block from the Saints headquarters at the Intercontinental Hotel, the lobby of which became Saints central. My book, Patron Saints, was selling briskly at the souvenir shop in the hotel as was Super Bowl merchandise with the Saints logo on it. It took a little while, but it was starting to sink in that the Saints had finally made it. This was real. The Saints were in the Super Bowl.
I usually hand out copies of my book and, at one point, I had a case of them and opened it up to give a kid a copy. No sooner was it opened, than a line formed of white gowned nuns hoping for a copy. A dozen nuns got books and promised to pray for a Saints victory. They were guests of the Benson family and, I am sure, had been praying for decades.
Saturday was amazing. Our group went down to Ocean Blvd, lined with Art Deco hotels, bars and places to eat, it had been closed down and made into a pedestrian mall. You'd have thought you were on the ramps of the Superdome on game day. As far as the eye could see, it was black and gold with the occasional white and blue Colts fan strolling along. The only thing that broke up the nonstop Who Datting was the excitement of Rickey Jackson moving from level to level in his quest to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
I had grabbed a hot dog and was walking when a roar started growing all along Ocean Blvd. Then a half crazed man in a Drew Brees jersey came up to us and shouted, "Ricky Jackson is in the Hall of Fame!!!" The entire mass of black and gold clad humanity gathered along the ocean in Miami began to jump up and down and cheer and then, almost as if rehearsed, began the Who Dat chant.
I am too young to know what it must have been like on VJ Day or what it was like when Lindberg landed in Paris, but this was, for Saints fans, that kind of moment. At that moment, we all knew that this was, indeed, our game. There was no doubt that the Saints belonged, or that the Lombardi would be coming back to New Orleans.