I went to my first New Orleans Saints game Sunday in the Superdome here in New Orleans. After living here since 2011, it was my first time in the Dome. The game was inconsequential, the last of the season; the Saints’ future in the playoffs had been established already. Their star quarterback, Drew Brees, would not be playing. No sense in risking an injury to the man who will hopefully guide the team to the Super Bowl. Neither was Cam Newton, the quarterback of the Saints’ opponent, the Carolina Panthers. No sense in injuring their multi-trillion-dollar star. So, the game was essentially meaningless, and that’s how I was able to afford a ticket. My seat was actually quite good, on the 50-yeard-lone, albeit 5,280 feet above the field. Like seeing a concert live, there is something about seeing a football game live that can’t be duplicated on television. You see everything, and you see it happening all at the same time. It’s a visual banquet.
About ten minutes into the game my eyes started wandering around the stadium, this enormous structure, with a capacity of 73,000-plus people. Despite the unimportance of the game, it was nearly full. New Orleans loves its football team. It’s a kind of modern-day Colosseum, the Superdome. (The capacity of the Roman structure was about the same.) The screens, lighting, loudspeakers and whatever else they have going make this far more than just a football game. It’s a spectacle, and for me, at least, the spectacle seemed at times far more prominent than the game. Every single opportunity there was to plug something, to use ordinary citizens to be part of promoting the Saints organization, and every chance there was for the announcer to bellow over the stratospheric-reaching loudspeaker system—“IT’S THIRD DOWN!—those opportunities were exploited. You are led by the hand at the Superdome, as if you’re a child. Television has its advantages.
At one point, I looked up into the far reaches of the Dome, and started thinking about the air conditioning, which seemed to be working quite well and was actually refreshing and not especially overwhelming, as AC often is. How do they do that, I wondered, and then I thought of 2005 and Hurricane Katrina and how the very space I was seated in became the 10th circle of Hell. I thought of how everything broke down and turned into chaos and fear for the refugees from the storm who were directed to come here. Then an eerie feeling settled over me. The place looked so spanking fresh and clean. The same place that was, for a week, one of the worst places on earth. If anyplace is haunted, surely the Superdome is. I am clearly not the first person to have these sensations. Rafi Kohan writes very well about this Superdome experience in this excerpt from his book, The Arena. I’m sure there are many other people who have written accounts about what it’s like to attend a game at the Superdome and think about what the place was like in September of 2005. That doesn’t make the feeling any less arresting.
A place for sport had once been a place of great suffering.
Not unlike the original Colosseum.