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Super Bowl Saints inspire revived New Orleans

By Steve Almasy, CNN
Saints quarterback Drew Brees celebrates with fans at the Superdome after New Orleans advanced to the Super Bowl.
Saints quarterback Drew Brees celebrates with fans at the Superdome after New Orleans advanced to the Super Bowl.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • New Orleans native Peyton Manning is a favorite son, but is quarterback of the Saints' enemy
  • City has always loved its team, and Super Bowl title would lift spirits of its people
  • Game will be watched by about 100 million people, many who care as much about commercials
  • Most ads will be funny, but at least one touches on sensitive subject of abortion

(CNN) -- He is a child of New Orleans. He was born there, raised there. He was a fan of the Saints. But to the people of the Big Easy, on Sunday, Peyton Manning is their archenemy.

Manning hopes to lead his favored Colts to their third Super Bowl title in franchise history Sunday night but knows most of the nation is cheering for the Saints.

"We certainly understand that we may not be the team that everybody is cheering for in this game," the Indianapolis quarterback said with a wry smile Tuesday.

Manning, a four-time MVP of the National Football League, is the son of Saints legend Archie Manning. The elder Manning played 10 years in New Orleans, 10 long seasons. Back then, in fact for most of their existence, the Saints have been a losing franchise. During the 1980 season, which started with 14 defeats, some began to refer to the team as the "Ain'ts."

The fans, though, have always loved their team, the main draw in a city that has no major-league baseball or hockey team. (There is a middling pro basketball team.)

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"To me, these fans are the greatest fans in the world because we've supported this team through the bad times," said Joan Serpas, a longtime fan and a member of the Charlie's Saints Marching Club. "I watch TV, I see teams with losing-seasons stadiums half empty. We don't have that down here."

Bob Marshall, a writer for The Times-Picayune newspaper who has covered the Saints since 1972, wrote this week that after New Orleans beat Minnesota on an overtime field goal to advance to the 44th Super Bowl, TV cameras missed something. They only showed crowds filling Bourbon Street. What they should have shown was the thousands of people on the other streets of the city, rushing out to celebrate something that was a lot more than a big sports win.

"This wasn't just a victory lap for the sports fan," he wrote. "It was a cathartic scream, a cheer, a dance, a hug, a high five, chest thump, fist bump, a lay-on-the-lawn-and-kick-my-hands-and-feet-in-the-air-in delirium. It was a community feeling not just of overwhelming joy, but the release of mountains of frustrations, disappointments and sorrows that had nothing to do with football."

The team that has turned around a city was, for many years, constantly rumored to be leaving town. In 2005, after Hurricane Katrina ravaged the roof of New Orleans' stadium, many feared the franchise would move to San Antonio (its temporary home for much of a 3-13 season). Even the players were convinced the team would stay in Texas.

But owner Tom Benson insisted this week he always planned to keep the team in the Big Easy.

"It was different than most people think," Benson told the Express-News of San Antonio. "It was just a matter of working through the circumstances. New Orleans needed the team there. At no time did we look anyplace else. We moved to San Antonio because we couldn't play [at the Super Dome] ... but that whole year, we continued working on getting back to New Orleans.

"It was the right decision, because it certainly has been a great thing for New Orleans. It is the thing that is getting our city back."

The city's emotions are tied to the team. Lose, which they didn't do very often this season, and it's a miserable week just waiting for the next game. Win, and people are dancing, singing, "Who dat? Who dat say dey gonna beat dem Saints?"

If the Colts are going to beat the Saints, they might have to overcome one huge injury. Their leading pass rusher, Dwight Freeney, has a bum ankle, and at Media Day, many of the questions were about his availability. Freeney told the hundreds of assembled reporters that he wouldn't practice at all this week.

His injury will be the talk of all the Super Bowl parties. Will he play? And if so, how effective can he be?

There will be other important questions. Will this be the highest-scoring Super Bowl ever? Can Drew Brees, the Saints quarterback, lead his team to their first Super Bowl win ever? But more importantly, who will have the best commercial?

One thing is for sure: The answer to the last question won't be Pepsi.

"The Super Bowl broadcast can be an amazing stage for advertisers if it aligns with their brand strategy," Frank Cooper, a senior vice president at Pepsico Americas Beverages, told CNN Money in December. "However, brands should not blindly anchor themselves to history."

It is the first time in decades that Pepsi has skipped the big game, where it seems as many people care about the advertisements as care about the score.

According to Nielsen, 51 percent of poll respondents said they enjoy the commercials more, as compared with the game, which is watched by nearly 100 million people in the United States.

Many of the folks not heading for a bathroom break will be interested to see a Focus on the Family ad starring Tim Tebow, who won the Heisman Trophy while playing for the Florida Gators. Several organizations, including the National Organization for Women, have said the spot has no place in a Super Bowl broadcast.

Most of the ads will be far from the serious tone of the Tebow spot. One company will feature quarterback Brett Favre, who seems to retire and unretire after every season now, as the gray-haired winner of the 2020 MVP award.

Budweiser leads the league with five minutes of spots, but whether any will feature the iconic Clydesdales is still up in the air. Anheuser-Busch has created a voting page on Facebook, and one of the ads includes the famous horses.

Networks typically sell 62 commercials of 30 seconds each for the Super Bowl. CBS reportedly sold its spots for $2.5 million and $3 million this year.

And that's just for the game, which is scheduled to begin about 6:25 p.m. ET.

If you're going to Miami, be prepared to spend a fortune just on tickets. The worst seats are selling for more than $1,300 on the NFL's official ticket reseller, NFL Ticket Exchange.

 
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