New Orleans — The Ernest N. Morial Convention Center was swarming Monday morning with workers in hard hats assembling the games, interactive exhibits and other attractions that make up the NFL Experience, which opens Wednesday and runs through Sunday.
The NFL is expecting huge crowds for the popular theme-park-like event. That’s one reason the league is encouraging locals to go out for the kickoff Wednesday — that’s when lines will be shortest and traffic lightest, said Mary Pat Augenthaler, vice president of events. But Wednesday is also Saints Appreciation Day, and anyone who goes to the event wearing a Saints jersey will get a $5 discount on tickets, which normally are $25 for adults and $20 for children 12 and under.
Wednesday is also the day the Lombardi trophy, which is awarded to the Super Bowl winner, will arrive, trucked in and delivered into the hands of former Saints player Deuce McAllister.
McCallister will walk it down the red carpet in a parade that includes St. Augustine High School’s Purple Knights Marching 100 and the Saintsations.
The Lombardi trophy exhibit, which gives fans a chance to be photographed in front of the coveted hardware, is one of the most popular, Augenthaler said.
But photo opportunities abound in the exhibit, which also includes an NFL draft exhibit that allows visitors to get a little taste of what it’s like to get drafted — and capture the moment by posing with their new team’s regalia.
Fans who attended the NFL Experience the last time the Super Bowl came to New Orleans will find many new features, including some that Augenthaler called “museum quality.’’
A brand-new attraction this year is the Pro Football Hall of Fame, which will include busts from the 2012 class.
Fans who are interested in the history of the game can find out how every team got its name, and another exhibit which debuted two years ago gives fans a chance to hear the great calls of Super Bowl history from radio — a different perspective since most fans watch the game on television.
Visitors will also have chances to get active, from clinics for kids to a field-goal kicking exhibit that Augenthaler says gives fans a greater appreciation of how hard it is to kick the ball through the uprights.
A miniature field offers smaller children the chance to don pads and helmet and hit the tackling block.
Augenthaler said that one exhibit, the video called “The Road to the Super Bowl,’’ is what she watches — or sends staff to watch — to recharge their batteries during the hard work of getting the NFL Experience ready.
This is her 17th Super Bowl, she said, but the film, with highlights from the last year, definitely creates goose bumps.
“You sit there and say, ‘How cool this is,’’’ she said and that “gets my mojo back.’’