East: No place like N.O. for Super Bowl

Associated Press photo by GERALD HERBERT -- The Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Show caption
Associated Press photo by GERALD HERBERT -- The Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

NEW ORLEANS — A lot has changed since the Super Bowl was last here 11 years ago.

Jacksonville, Dallas and Indianapolis have debuted as Super Bowl hosts and New York will next year, further increasing the competition for cities wishing to host.

Also the cost of hosting this event has skyrocketed, though the economic impact still makes it worthwhile.

And, of course, Hurricane Katrina forever changed New Orleans 7½ years ago, which is one of the reasons for the unprecedented gap between Super Bowls here.

But as the NFL, the international media, corporate types all of all stripes and Ravens and 49ers fans descend on the Crescent City this week, the real point is that one thing has not changed since New England and St. Louis played here in the first post-9/11 Super Bowl: A Super Bowl in New Orleans is still better than a Super Bowl anywhere else.

That’s what this city wants to demonstrate this week.

James Carville said he has been to Super Bowls in “a bunch of” cities, including Miami, Dallas, Indianapolis and Atlanta, but New Orleans remains the best site, and “it’s not even close.”

Carville, who walked up to the Los Angeles Coliseum and bought tickets to Super Bowl I and attended the first New Orleans Super Bowl in 1970, has a vested interest in touting the Crescent City, as he’s a New Orleans resident and co-chair, along with wife Mary Matalin, of the New Orleans Super Bowl Host Committee.

But he has pretty good facts on his side, too.

“We have 23,000 hotel rooms within walking distance,” Carville said. “Nobody does hospitality like we do. We have 294 years of history. Our facility is first-class, and there are no weather concerns.

“Who can accommodate the number of restaurants we have in walking distance? The airport has been rebuilt, and we have the streetcar running downtown. Try getting around Dallas on a streetcar.”

Every Super Bowl city hosts a fine event, and each is challenged to top its immediate predecessor, whether it’s a regular Super Bowl destination or a neophyte.

But the music, food and hospitality that New Orleans offers without a lot of wasted time in cars and busses creates a unique experience.

When the Saints won the Super Bowl three years ago in Miami, they were based in downtown Miami and the Colts were in Fort Lauderdale. You didn’t see visitors, especially fans of the opposing teams, interacting the way they will in the French Quarter, on Canal Street and along the Riverfront.

“We’re still the No. 1 destination for this game,” Saints coach Sean Payton said. “We’re not driving 45 minutes to some venue out in a different city. You’re right down the street from the finest hotels, the finest restaurants. And the hospitality in our city is open to everyone.”

New Orleans doesn’t embrace change as readily as some other places do, and there’s good and bad in that.

All you Super Bowl folks are about to see the good in it.