The CBS sports commentator who concluded, “Tonight the City of New Orleans embraced football,” doesn’t know the first thing about television reception. On Superbowl Sunday 2010, viewers saw how a football team has embraced a city and its culture for decades. Let me give some context.
First, this is how we watched the game. Gold lamé and tutus, and the women dressed up too. At the cincher play, an interception returned for a 74-yard touchdown, Deutsches Haus turned off the TV audio and played “When the Saints Come Marchin’ In” for a carnival parade of kings and queens, nuns and burlesque fairies waving white handkerchiefs high. Mardi Gras, for the uninitiated, is a season here, not a day. We’d been dressed out since morning for the four Sunday parades, including the all-dog Krewe of Barkus, strolling aptly to “When the Dogs Go Barking In.”
Television didn’t unify us. The city has been on a high since the election results rolled in 15-hours earlier. For the first time in recent memory, voters crossed racial lines en masse to elect a white mayor and a multiracial city council. Television coverage of the city since Katrina has stressed divisions, ignoring the hybrid spaces and collaborative times that form a historically public culture.
Then, we danced downtown. We took the “neutral ground,” a local word for the median that dates to colonial days as the place where French and Spaniards could meet without a turf scuffle. In the street-turned-parking-lot, a black woman of maybe 60 years jumped out of her sedan and met in a jubilant squeeze with my towering white guy friend. It was the first of many hugs, kisses, and high-fives with complete strangers that night.
Over the past four decades, the Saints became part of a public culture that erupts in New Orleans, a gumbo roux (locals, please pardon the cliché) that spills into the rue citywide.
This was the New Orleans I have always known, the one that drew me here before Katrina and the one that has kept me here.