Super Bowl XXXVI proved for good that America's largest sporting spectacle transcends the game it surrounds.
As the record-setting, nine-time host city of the event, New Orleans is fast approaching the status of being synonymous with the game. Tourists, media, NFL brass and football fans have flocked here for four decades now to enjoy our food, fun and facilities.
But 2002 was different. In post-9/11 America, it had to be. The date was pushed back a week when the NFL opted to take a week off its schedule in the wake of the terrorist attacks. The event's logo was changed, from one celebrating New Orleans culture to an American patriotic emblem. The host city almost changed, too. New Orleans kept the game by agreeing to move the National Auto Dealers Association's conference that would have conflicted with the rescheduled Super Bowl here. That, after the NFL considered a symbolic switch to New York City.
New Orleans remained the Super Bowl host, retaining the benefits of 125,000 visitors and an estimated economic impact of $390 million. As soon as New England's Adam Vinatieri kicked the last-second field goal that propelled his Patriots to a stunning 20-17 upset victory, the game -- the event -- was lauded as "the greatest Super Bowl ever."
Countless individuals and groups deserve recognition for their selfless efforts. They enabled the game -- with its increased security and scrutiny -- to kick off without a hitch. Here are a few:
· The New Orleans Police Department. Because of heightened awareness of vulnerability to a terrorist attack, the game was made a National Special Security Event, only the 12th time in our nation's history such a designation has been made, and a first for the Super Bowl. This brought the National Guard to Poydras Street, the FBI to the French Quarter, hazardous-materials experts to the Superdome and an F-15 fighter-jet escort to a pilot who departed the Northshore in violation of the area's no-fly zone. The Secret Service was ultimately responsible for security, but NOPD had the burden as principal coordinator of the 48 law-enforcement agencies involved.
They handled it well. There were 436 arrests downtown over the four-day period, most of them for revelers mixing the excesses of Super Bowl and Mardi Gras.
"The department was very proud it worked out so well," says Lt. Sidney Bournes, NOPD's commander of public affairs. "The fact that we had so much planning and security in place was largely responsible for the success. The majority of the people appreciated the efforts, saying they felt it was the safest place they'd ever been."
· Super Bowl XXXVI Host Committee. Staffed by members of the Greater New Orleans Sports Foundation (GNOSF), the Super Bowl XXXVI Host Committee worked tirelessly to prove their slogan that "N.O. City Does It Better." The group was involved in nearly all aspects of planning and preparation, including the recruiting of 7,800 volunteers who served their city and its visitors during the week.
"I don't know how the NFL or the city could top what happened," says GNOSF president and CEO Jay Cicero. "Everything about it was the best ever. Given everything that we had to go through -- September 11, the change of date, the moving of Mardi Gras, switching the auto dealers' conference -- to come out with that type of event was amazing. The success of this Super Bowl should give us a boost of confidence that we, as a city, can accomplish anything."
· Louisiana Superdome. The Superdome was visually stunning for this Super Bowl. The red, white and blue lights illuminating the monolith the week before the game punctuated months of work to prepare the facility for the game. Spectacor Management Group (SMG), the state's manager of the Superdome, spent $7 million on renovations. These improvements included a new roof, renovations to the Stadium Club, refurbished seats, and paint work. The NFL came in during the final weeks to provide exterior lighting, theme-treatment such as banners and interior lighting, and freshly painted turf.
"This was the most difficult event we've ever been a part of," says Doug Thornton, general manager of the Superdome. "I don't mind saying I was anxious about it, because what we were doing was unprecedented. But it was flawless. We were prepared for the worst and hoping for the best. As it turns out, the best happened."
· The People of New Orleans. Thirteen Mardi Gras krewes rescheduled or relocated their parades. The Greater New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau worked tirelessly to make the "handoffs" between the rescheduled Super Bowl, the auto dealers convention and Carnival krewes happen seamlessly. Motorists tolerated traffic jams. Thousands happily participated in pre-game events. Citizens responded with proper outrage when Boston-based ESPN.com writer Bill Simmons' column "Queasy in the Big Easy" took unfounded cheap shots at us.
And, lest we forget, we also held a mayor's race.
Ex-Saints head coach Mike Ditka once famously quipped that they should "play the Super Bowl in New Orleans every year." On this point, we couldn't agree more.