St. Augustine High School's Marching 100 blasted through the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center, and at its lead were Louisiana State Police, looking crisp in blue and really pissed off (or stern, can't tell), surrounding Deuce McCallister, whose gloved hands carried the Vince Lombardi Trophy down a red carpet to its glass-cased throne under a massive portrait of itself.
That long-winded sentence is to say that people really love the Lombardi trophy. When the NFL Experience opened this afternoon, New Orleans Saints fans were first in line. When McAllister smiled and strolled (albeit in a cloud of armed protection surrounded by a layer of flashing cameras) with the Lombardi, fans were locked in its not-so-distant memory tractor beam — a token of the Super Bowl XLIV win, the beloved Deuuuuuuce chant, "party with the Lombardi." Instant heart-tugging nostalgia set in for those first-in-the-door Saints fans.
Though some out-of-town visitors squinted and asked, "Who is that?" (but not in that way overplayed ironic way of saying "Who Dat.")
The NFL Experience itself is a 850,000 square feet playground for families, whose children ran around and tumbled into things as they re-enacted football plays, or just ran for the sake of running because oh my gosh look at all this football. For those without children, it's a time to nerd out among other nerds whose interests include football, football, and even football. A traveling football Disneyland, packed up and put away until next year, when it magically appears in another town, where the devoted make their pilgrimage to visit glass-cased Super Bowl rings, receive player autographs, kick actual field goals, eat Tostitos Scoops, find the free things, and pocket endless peanut M&Ms from oil-drum-sized candy barrels.
On Monday, crews put the finishing touches on the facility, which spans from the convention center's new entrance to infinity. Staff estimate more than 100 construction crewmembers put it together, while several hundred volunteers run the show throughout the week, from manning activities, handing out lanyards and keeping things generally together and impressive-looking. (Note: all the Super Bowl volunteers have been nothing but kind and helpful to this idiot reporter.)
The NFL Experience sets are massive and heavily sponsored. GMC, "the official truck of the NFL," is the Experience's first-name presenter — its trucks were spread out among the installations. Tostitos' play area aims for a French Quarter look (with the banner "We Kneaux How To Party"), and the NFL Network, with one of its several Super Bowl sets inside the NFL Experience, surrounded its set with a wrought-iron-inspired gate.
VISA's booths remind you to "MAKE IT EPIC," a word usage I will not tolerate because it's a horrible appropriation of a perfectly good word reserved for, you know, actual epics, and it's lazy. With apologies, VISA, I will instead make it "interesting" or "worth remembering."
It's a vast, wild landscape of carefully placed and packaged eye-candy and other football-y things to look at, like the Pro Football Hall of Fame, some Verizon stuff, and feats of strength tests, namely throwing, kicking and catching footballs.
Deuce wrapped his NFL Experience with an autograph signing — NFL players will stop to make appearances there throughout the week. It wraps up Sunday as the Big Game gets started.
Tickets are $25 general admission and $20 for children 12 and under.