It had been seven years since the Saints had hosted a home playoff game. On January 7, 2018, the entire New Orleans metro area - from Kenner to the French Quarter, Treme to Lakeview, Metairie to the CBD - was buzzing with excitement. Over a 12-hour period we visited seven locations to see how Saints fans were celebrating the day before, during and after the game.
St. Dominic's Church
Lakeview 10:30 A.M.
"It's like this for every game, home and away..."
...Father John G. Restrepo says. He's standing outside St. Dominic's church greeting parishioners as they walk in, many of them in Saints clothes. In any other city, church-goers in football jerseys would raise a few eyebrows. In New Orleans, people work their church schedule around the Saints schedule.
THE SOUNDS OF THE CHURCH ON GAMEDAY
Meanwhile on social media...
By far the most @Saints apparel I've seen at Mass so far this season. Needless to say everyone erupted in applause at our Priest's parting words: "Go Saints!" #SaintsGameDay#WhoDat
"Louis Armstrong International Airport is Saints territory..."
The "Go Saints" banner hanging from the flight control tower is the biggest sign to travelers at Louis Armstrong International Airport that they're in Saints territory. But on Saints game day, there are many other reminders: all the baggage handlers and out-going passengers are dressed in Saints gear. If anyone's feeling left out, they can grab some Black & Gold merchandise at the official team store, where the Saints Super Bowl win plays on a constant loop.
Acme Oyster House
Metairie, LA 12:30 P.M.
It's more than three hours before kick off...
...but there's already a strong Saints presence at the ACME Oyster House on Veterans Memorial Boulevard. Customers, servers, and shuckers are wearing Black & Gold while the Jaguars-Bills Wild Card Game plays silently on the restaurant's flat screens.
Alvin and Michelle Zerangue and their friends, Brad and Sheryl McBride, drove in from Lafayette for the game:
"We come to this particular ACME Oyster House every time we come to New Orleans."
Mercedes-Benz Superdome 1:30 P.M.
"All our people are dedicated to having the best party in town," Scott Sparks said. "Winning the game is the icing on the cake."
Scott Sparks calls himself the "King of Tailgaiting," a bold claim on a day when festivities stretched out for a mile around the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. But with a bus filled with kegs, enough food to feed a small army, and a performance from the Fat City Drum Corps, Sparks makes a good case.
Musician and barbecue specialist Kermit Ruffins opens the lid on his grill and a cloud of smoke pours out. "Only in New Orleans," he says as he starts to work on the 50 pounds of chicken he's slow-roasting - along with a 10-gallon pot of red beans - for the packed crowd at his Treme Mother-in-Law Lounge. The food, along with a DJ, gives the music club a living-room feel. During the game, the crowd is rowdy, dancing and celebrating every Saints score with music and second-line dancing. All the while, Kermit sits in the back, a sly grin on his face as he watches his beloved Saints take a 21-9 first-half lead.
"Who Dat Baby?! We Live!"
At 3:40 p.m., everything the day was building up to finally arrived: kickoff. Inside the Superdome, the noise was deafening. At Kermit's, every big play gave way to a Treme dance party.
Mid-City 5:30 P.M.
"Have you seen anything like this?"
...Kathy Hirsch asks, proudly relaying the fact that she and her husband Mike have every Saints game day since 1991. Despite the long-standing ritual, Kathy's still amazed by what she and her husband created. Nearly 100 people - and a half-dozen dogs - have gathered at the Hirsch Memorial Stadium, aka "The Mini Superdome." They shake home-made noisemakers, wave flags, and bang a bass drum as they cheer on the Saints. It's a jubilant crowd, but the Saints still have them on the edge of their seats.
HEAR THE SOUNDS FROM HIRSCH MEMORIAL STADIUM
"It was a tale of two halves..."
What had looked like a blow-out after the first half turned into tense and anxious moments in the second half as the Saints held on to a five-point lead with the Carolina Panthers driving down the field. Then, on 4th-and-23 with 11 seconds left, Panthers quarterback Cam Newton dropped back to pass, the Saints blitzed and...