When the Saints Go Marching In!
“Who dat say dey gonna beat dem Saints? Who dat?”
While throughout the history of the New Orleans Saints the answer to that question might make quite a long list as the franchise lost at an unbelievable pace, the Saints have gone marching in to the Superdome more competitive than ever in the last few years. This has led one of the most passionate and energetic fanbases in the nation to become louder and even more loyal, making the Mercedes-Benz Superdome possibly the most intimidating venue for opposing teams in the NFL.
Add to the passionate fanbase, a venue with the rich history of the Mercedes-Benz Superdome and the experience triples in value. No other stadium has hosted as many Super Bowls as the Superdome and several other high profile events frequent the Dome from BCS National Championships to NCAA Final Fours, the Sugarbowl, and many more.
As if that wasn’t enough, the Superdome is just blocks away from the party capital of the world, the French Quarter and Bourbon Street. The sights, sounds, and tastes of New Orleans can’t be replicated or matched by any other NFL location in the nation. Simply put, laissez les bons temps rouler (let the good times roll)!
There are few stadium experiences as unique and memorable as a high profile New Orleans Saints matchup in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
What is FANFARE?
The FANFARE scale is our metric device for rating each stadium experience. It covers the following:
- Food & Beverage
- Return on Investment
Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
Food & Beverage
There's quite a bit of variety at the concessions stands around the Superdome. On both the plaza and upper levels, you'll find concession stands built into the outer rim of the concourse. Options for these stands range from Rotolo's (pizza and meatball sub), King's Table and Royal Feast (hot dogs, nachos, and traditional fare), Parish Grill (shrimp basket, assorted po'boys, chicken tenders/wings, burgers), Saint Jack's BBQ, and more.
On the inner rim of the concourse just behind the plaza level seats you'll find assorted mobile stands. Your options here are considerable and range from Triple B's Cajun Corner, SuperPretzel, N'awlins Nachos, Geaux Nuts, Point After Popcorn, Market Fresh (gourmet wraps and sandwiches), amongst other stands.
My recommendation, especially if you're not from the New Orleans or Cajun Country area, is to stop by the Cajun Corner stand for either a bowl of jambalaya, crawfish pie, and/or alligator sausage. How many other stadiums in the world offer crawfish pie or alligator sausage? Expect to spend anywhere between $7-$12 for major concessions items. Though that's rather expensive, it's pretty average for NFL venues.
Only a few blocks from Bourbon Street, it just wouldn't fit the New Orleans culture if the Superdome wasn't loaded with tons of drink options. The plaza level features both a Coors Light Cold Zone lounge and Crown Royal Black lounge. Throughout the concourse you'll find several beer stands and even hard liquor stands. Your beer prices will range from $8-$9 and hard liquor from $8.50 and up. Non-alcoholic refreshments include Coca-Cola products ($4.50 - $6.50), bottled Dasani Water ($4), and a Minute Maid Smoothie ($6). Almost all the concession stands accept credit/debit card, however, some of the specialty stands are hit and miss so you may want to bring along some cash before heading to the Dome.
There are three levels of seating in the Superdome which include the lower plaza level and upper level with a level of suites, club seating, and press facilities sandwiched between. The plaza level seating sections will be in the 100s, suites/club seating will take up the 200s-400s, and the upper level seating consists of a few sections in the 500s with the majority in the 600s.
Large video replay scoreboards are located on the wall behind both the north and south endzones and above the upper level seating with "Mercedes-Benz Superdome" spelled out in large letters above. The walls above the upper level seating areas and around the scoreboards alternate wide white and gold stripes of paneling. The upper level seating rises taller on the east and west sides and gradually shrinks into the north and south endzones. The playing surface is UBU-Intensity Series-S5-M Synthetic Turf. For the best view and experience, your best seats will be in either the 100s or 200s on the 50 yardline.
Banners hang opposite of the video scoreboards on each side. You'll notice a retired numbers section which includes Saint legends like Archie Manning (former Saints quarterback and father of Peyton and Eli Manning), Rickey Jackson (former linebacker), the late Jim Finks (former General Manager) as well as Pete Maravich (New Orleans Jazz - NBA), Dave Dixon (official who helped secure the construction of the Superdome), and the great late coach of the Grambling Tigers, Eddie Robinson.
The Tulane Green Wave call the Superdome home as well and have several banners hanging opposite of the retired numbers including one honoring the 1934 SEC and Sugarbowl Champions and the perfect 12-0 season in 1998.
On the opposite side of the field are accomplishment banners for the Saints. These banners include a season sell-out streak dating back to 2006, NFC West Champions (1991, 2000), NFC South Champions (2006, 2009, 2011), NFC Champions (2009), and World Champions (2009). The World Champions banner stands out in black among the other gold banners.
Few other stadiums in the United States offer the type of unique and sterling history that the Superdome does. Still listed as one of the largest fixed dome stadiums in the world (largest between 1975-92), the Superdome sits on top of 52+ acres, with a height of 273 feet and diameter of 678 feet.
Until the Saints shocked the world in 2009 by winning their first and only Super Bowl in franchise history, the Superdome had been the only familiarity the city has had with the NFL's championship event. The Mercedes-Benz Superdome has hosted more Super Bowls (6 total - XII, XV, XX, XXIV, XXXI, XXXVI) than any other venue and will be adding to that record in 2013 when it serves as host to Super Bowl XLVII. Additionally, it has hosted three BCS College Football Championships (2004, 2008, 2011), five NCAA Men's Basketball Final Fours (1982, 1987, 1993, 2003, 2012), and the world record for a concert indoors (1981, Rolling Stones - 87,500).
In 2005, Hurricane Katrina nearly wiped New Orleans off the map, much less the Superdome. Serving as a shelter for those unable to evacuate the city, the Superdome became a focal point of the storm and a notorious symbol of the catastrophic event.
The atmosphere within the Superdome is electric. To start things off just before kickoff, a Saints player (often Drew Brees) trots out on the field and holds a fist high. Once he drops his fist, Saints fans belt out the "Who Dat" chant. When the Saints score you'll hear the Saints Go Marching In song followed by Mardi Gras Mambo after the extra point. Though many teams now play the energetic Stand Up and Get Crunk song prior to kickoff, the New Orleans Saints created the trend during their 2009 Super Bowl run. Throughout the game you'll find a small brass band making their way to various seating sections.
Another element that makes the atmosphere unique is the fleur de lis. It's more than a logo for the city's NFL team, it's a symbol of the city and culture of New Orleans. Expect to see it everywhere.
The Mercedes-Benz Superdome is located just a few blocks away from the French Quarter. While many other NFL fans brag about their tailgating experience, Saints fans are more accustomed to party-gating on Bourbon Street and the surrounding area both before and after the game. The newly developed "Champions Square" is a unique fan gathering area which includes huge banners of Saints players and logos, a live band, several food and drink vendors, and swarms of Who Dats cramming into the square.
During your trip to the Superdome, be sure to visit Jackson Square. Here you'll see the famous statue of President Andrew Jackson on a horse in the center of the garden with the beautiful and historic St. Louis Cathedral in the background. Around the square you'll find street vendors ranging from carriage rides, fortune-tellers, and artistic painters. Just across the square is the famous Cafe Du Monde serving up beignets (French powdered donut) and café au laits (coffee with steamed milk). There's usually a musician playing just outside.
Just a few blocks from Jackson Square sits the historic French Market. Here you'll find different vendors and stands selling items in flea market style. Even if you don't like shopping, there's plenty to browse through and also some pretty good food. If you're into gambling, Harrah's Casino is located just off Poydras several blocks from the Superdome and French Quarter. This is a great place not only for gambling but also for drinks and people watching. It's not a bad spot for parking either since Harrah's offers free parking in their casino garage if you gamble for at least 30 minutes each day.
New Orleans and the French Quarter handle millions of tourists each year so undoubtedly the hotel options are vast. My recommendation is a French Quarter hotel just a block away from Jackson Square, Place d'Armes Hotel. It's not as luxurious as some other options, but the price usually makes it a great value and there's a cozy courtyard in the center of the hotel. If you're looking for top-dollar luxurious hotels, I'd recommend Le Pavillon. A French Quarter hotel that's a little more on the high-end side is the Maison Dupuy Hotel. If you are planning to spend a considerable amount of time at Harrah's Casino, you can book a room and stay the weekend there as well as gamble and park.
There's absolutely no way you leave New Orleans without considering the city as one of the top areas worldwide for dining. I've already mentioned Café Du Monde and it's a New Orleans staple for breakfast, afternoon snack, or to wind down a night of celebration (open 24 hours). There are too many absolutely wonderful restaurants to mention here so I'll offer up a just few recommendations.
The Gumbo Shop is yet another great place near Jackson Square and is home to some of the best gumbo you'll find in New Orleans. There are plenty of other options such as red beans and rice, but be sure to ask for the seafood gumbo.
You have to experience the gourmet jazz brunch buffet at Two Sisters off Bourbon Street. Selections range from eggs benedict to crawfish to dessert options like King Cake.
An amazing dinner stop is Broussard's on Conti and Bourbon. Try anything on their menu and you'll think you're eating dinner at the finest restaurant in heaven, but make sure to order Oysters Rockefeller as an appetizer.
Some of the most affordable and quality seafood in the area can be found at Deanie's. There's a Deanie's Seafood in the French Quarter, but the original is located in a segment of Metairie (a suburb of New Orleans) known as Bucktown. Bring an appetite because servings are heaped tall.
One more mention for oysters, because few places do them as well as New Orleans. Stop by Drago's in the downtown area (across from Harrah's) for their charbroiled oysters. I guarantee you'll have a hard time finding a grilled/charbroiled oyster that tastes better than Drago's.
What really makes the overall experience at the Superdome one of the top in the NFL is the New Orleans Saints fanbase, AKA the Who Dat Nation. Through thick and thin, Saints fans bleed black and gold. It took twelve seasons before the Saints broke even in the win-loss column. Between 1967-1978, the Saints had a combined record of 39-110-5. Following their first non-losing season in 1979 (8-8), fans were rewarded with a 1-15 season. It wouldn't be until 1987 when Saints fans would finally experience a winning record.
I say this to point out just how passionate New Orleans is about their Saints. I'd argue that any other fanbase would have completely given up on their team, forcing the owner to relocate the franchise to another city. Though attendance waned at points, fans still showed up if not just to wear a brown paper bag over their heads to show their embarrassment for the on-field product.
The Who Dat Nation began to grow even stronger in the late 80s and early 90s when the team was helmed by head coach Jim Mora (playoffs?), quarterback Bobby Hebert, and one of the fiercest linebacking cores in the history of the NFL; the Dome Patrol (Ricky Jackson, Pat Swilling, Sam Mills, and Vaughn Johnson).
The late 90s were a tough period for Saints fans which saw a failed head coaching comeback for Mike Ditka and a marriage between Ditka and rookie running back head case Ricky Williams. However, in the early 2000s, the Saints would experience a resurgence behind quarterback Aaron Brooks, receiver Joe Horn, and running back Deuce McAllister which brought the Saints back to winning ways under head coach Jim Haslett.
The team would win their first playoff game in team history in 2000 when the St. Louis Rams fumbled a punt return on what would have been the final drive of the game. Saints fans were finally rewarded for decades of faith. Unfortunately this would be the highlight of the Haslett era.
In 2005, Hurricane Katrina damaged the Superdome and forced the Saints to play several games in San Antonio. Since then, the Who Dat Nation has ensured consecutive season long sell-outs beginning with the team's return to the Superdome in 2006.
The ultimate reward came in the offseason of 2006 with the signing of head coach Sean Payton and quarterback Drew Brees. One of the greatest fan moments in the history of the NFL came on September 25th when the Saints finally returned home to the Superdome. The region had gone through so much after Hurricane Katrina and the return of their team served as a symbol of rebirth and rebuilding. The great moment came after the Falcons first drive (a three and out). Forced to punt, Steve Gleason slipped passed the line and blocked Michael Koenan's punt. The ball rolled into the endzone and was recovered by Curtis Deloatch for a touchdown. The crowd erupted, letting lose their feelings of pride and joy, as well as pent-up anguish and hurt. The Saints, and New Orleans, were officially back on the map.
Talk to any Saints fan who was a part of this moment and you'll see them struggle to hold back tears as they explain just what it meant to them. In an instant, the connection between the city and the Saints transcended sports and continues to today. After a strong run to the NFC Championship game in 2006, Saints fans were given the ultimate reward for their loyalty with a 2009 Super Bowl victory.
This brief history is written to tell the Who Dat Nation story of extreme highs and extreme lows. Though there are many other larger cities that would seem a better fit for an NFL franchise, the New Orleans Saints and the Gulf coast region have a special bond together, one that will never be broken. Saints fans will always make the Superdome the loudest and most intimidating venue in the NFL. The team carries the temperament of the region as well as their symbol, the fleur de lis.
If there's a downside to hosting the Saints in downtown New Orleans it's definitely access to the game. If you are arriving on gameday within three hours of kickoff, expect a traffic delay. The most congested route is usually the most obvious which is I-10 to Hwy 90 then taking the Superdome exit and also I-10 to the Poydras Street exit. An alternate route that may save some time is to take Causeway to Airline which will turn into Tulane. This will lead you towards the Superdome with possibly less congestion.
Locating affordable parking in a spot that you're comfortable leaving your vehicle will be no easy task. Most of the lots around the Superdome will range from $20 to $30 and will fill pretty quickly. If you have time and don't mind the hike, I recommend parking at the Harrah's Casino parking garage as mentioned above. If you gamble for at least 30 minutes (as tracked by a free Rewards card) your parking is free. If you're into gambling, you likely were planning to spend at least that long at Harrah's anyway. If you're not into gambling, you can actually find a penny machine that allows you to play one penny at a time. If you never win (which I don't) you'll probably be out no more than $5 for parking. The walk to the Dome will be a good hike so you might want to scope out some stops along the way to break it up (there's plenty along Poydras).
Once you've made it to the Superdome, access inside won't be too much of a hassle. Expect there to be swarms of people walking up the ramps and hanging out around the gates and outside concourse. If you're picking up tickets, the line will be manageable and so will the line to get into the gate. When you've made it inside, you'll be at the plaza level. If you need to make it up to the upper level (500s/600s), you'll take the escalator to level three and then walk the Reflection Ramps up to the upper level. That's not the official ramp name, it's a nickname I've given it for what happens after the game. On your way down to the plaza level, these ramps serve as a time to reflect back on either a big win or the ramifications of a loss. It's a time to celebrate or sulk before you make it outside the Dome. When your team wins, the ramp is no bother. When your team loses, the ramp feels like it winds on forever. The concourses are spacious enough to get around without any problems and the restrooms are accessible and acceptably clean.
Return on Investment
We're talking NFL prices here, so don't expect to come away from the experience feeling like your checkbook didn't take a hit. However, the Saints experience is a value if you do your research. In 2012, Team Marketing Report ranked the average ticket price for a Saints game as 16th in the NFL at $74.99 and under the NFL average of $78.38. The overall cost of attending a Saints game is above the average and 11th overall.
The overall return on investment for an experience you'll never forget and one of the best in the NFL makes the expense worth every penny. If you're staying the night in New Orleans, make sure your hotel is within walking distance of the Dome so you don't have to cough up $20-$30 on parking. Do your drinking before and after the game on Bourbon Street so you can avoid the high alcohol cost inside the Dome. Definitely make a stop at the Cajun Corner stand inside the Dome, but go light on concessions so you have cash for great dining options outside the Dome. The overall experience of a visit to New Orleans helps improve the ROI because, win or lose, you're guaranteed to have an amazing stay.
The history of the Mercedes-Benz Superdome adds to the overall experience. Stadium Journey recently compiled a Top 12 Moments in Superdome History which provides more insight on the rich Superdome history.
The food in New Orleans is an experience in itself. Several excellent options were listed in the neighborhood section above but there are many, many more. There's something for everyone's taste buds in the Big Easy.
If you're looking for a party atmosphere, you'll definitely be in the right place. Bourbon Street provides you all the tools needed to party, including the infamous hand grenades and hurricanes which are sure to make your night interesting.
The overall experience of the French Quarter is unique and rivals that of any tourist area in America. Whether it's relaxing while eating beignets at Café du Monde, gulping down delicious Cajun cuisine like a tasty bowl of gumbo, perusing the booths in the French Market, taking a street car ride, or partying on Bourbon Street, the experience is unforgettable, regardless of whether it's your first time or 20th.
The Who Dat Nation is certainly an experience in itself. The Saints fanbase is one of the most passionate in the nation. The bond between the team and region is unique and maybe stronger than any other in the NFL or at least rivaling that of other unique smaller city franchises like Green Bay and Pittsburgh.
So is it worth it? The Mercedes-Benz Superdome is a must-stop bucket list item for any sports fan. Try to book a visit during a marquee matchup between the Saints and their hated rival the Atlanta Falcons for the best game-related experience. While in the Dome, reflect back on some of the great events hosted inside the massive structure from the great Pistol Pete Maravich and the NBA's New Orleans Jazz, to BCS National Championships, Super Bowls, NCAA Final Fours, and many more.