Saints superfan in that number

Advocate staff photo by MATTHEW HINTON-- Mary Sonnier has been selected as a super fan for NBC's Sunday Night Football in New Orleans, La. Friday, Dec. 6, 2013. Show caption
Advocate staff photo by MATTHEW HINTON-- Mary Sonnier has been selected as a super fan for NBC's Sunday Night Football in New Orleans, La. Friday, Dec. 6, 2013.

Ex-chef chosen by NBC Sports to tweet as Fan of the Week

“I probably don’t do the game as a male would do it. I bring a woman’s perspective. I like to get a little sassy.” Mary SONNIER, retired chef

Game day preparations tend to be regular and ritualized for football fans as well as for players. But before the high-stakes tilt against the Carolina Panthers tomorrow, Saints fan Mary Sonnier has something new to check off her list: Grab the cell phone charger.

A prolific Twitter user under normal circumstances, Sonnier will be tweeting up a storm leading up to and during the big game, and she’ll be doing so on behalf of NBC Sports. The charger will be a vital piece of equipment to keep the tweets coming.

NBC Sports selected Sonnier as its Sunday Night Football Fan of the Week to represent fans across the Who Dat Nation both in person at pre-game events and through her Twitter handle (@ChefMarySonnier).

It’s part of a season-long promotion from the network, which broadcasts the NFL’s Sunday night games and rolls into each host city for the weekend with its Sunday Night Football Bus and plenty of promotional fanfare.

The NFL had originally scheduled Sunday’s Saints-Panthers game for a noon kickoff, but with both teams vying for control of the NFC South division, the league bumped it up to its premier Sunday night spotlight.

Soon after that decision was announced, NBC Sports started looking for a Saints super fan and contacted Sonnier through her Twitter account.

“I got the message after Thanksgiving, and really we thought someone was putting me on at first,” Sonnier said.

Sonnier is a New Orleans native, a mother of two and a retired chef who is best known as co-owner of Gabrielle, the restaurant she and her husband, Greg Sonnier, operated on Esplanade Avenue for 13 years before Hurricane Katrina. The Sonniers’ effort to reopen Gabrielle after Katrina near their Uptown home evolved into a long, and ultimately unsuccessful, struggle against a group of neighbors and City Hall, and Mary initially took up Twitter to tell her side of the story.

Later she discovered how the social media service could connect her with people all over the world who share her passions, including the Saints. When the team is on the field, Sonnier is usually on Twitter sharing her observations and enthusiasms.

“You can tell when Mary’s watching a game,” said Greg Sonnier, who now is the chef at Kingfish Restaurant in the French Quarter. “Whether it’s a good play or a bad play, she feels it and responds to it.”

On Twitter, Sonnier doesn’t note detailed player stats or team records so much as the antics on the field — the touchdown celebration dances, the epic flow of Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan’s hair and, she admits, the general “hunkiness” of her favorite players, especially Jimmy Graham.

“I probably don’t do the game as a male would do it. I bring a woman’s perspective,” she said. “I like to get a little sassy.”

She’s protective of her team and its players, and she often plays defense in the Twittersphere when she feels others aren’t giving the New Orleans squad their due. In fact, last week she was mixing it up with Sir Mix-a-Lot, the rapper behind the 1992 hit “Baby Got Back,” who is a vocal fan of the Seattle Seahawks.

Sonnier will have a busy weekend as a Fan of the Week, taking part in events as the Sunday Night Football Bus makes its rounds about the city. This bus functions as a rolling fan center and mini-museum of the season, with signed memorabilia from each Sunday night game. It’s also the hub for NBC Sports’ social media activities, so Sonnier will be tweeting the latest, alongside her opposite number, Mimi Wheeler, a Carolina Panthers fan from Raleigh, N.C., who was tapped to represent her team during the weekend. The opportunity to be the Fan of the Week came up out of the blue, and Sonnier had to do some rescheduling of her time this weekend. But NBC Sports issued her an “Official Excuse Letter.”

The letter explains to anyone who might need to know that Sonnier was chosen out of millions of possible candidates to help represent Saints fans, and it explicitly lets her off the hook for anything that could get in the way of these duties, from work to chores to “eating healthy foods.”