NEW ORLEANS – Political analysts James Carville and Mary Matalin have spent many years arguing their individual philosophies (in summary: He's on the left, and she's not) even as they've enjoyed a surprisingly happy marriage for most of the last two decades. One thing that brings them together right now is their work with the Super Bowl host committee in New Orleans, which they co-chair. It's an especially meaningful honor for Carville, who was born and bred in Louisiana, and is a rabid football fan.
Carville and most other Louisiana natives seem to firmly believe that having the Super Bowl back in New Orleans is a great measuring stick for the ways in which the city has not only moved on, but rebuilt and improved, after Hurricane Katrina devastated the landscape in 2005. Getting the game back here, and for the 10th time overall, was a big part of that.
"My hope is it can help bring some real closure here, and that the city can show what it can do," Carville said in a recent host committee conference call. "But you just don’t know that feeling until you’re through with it. All of us on the committee are trying not to focus on that. We’re trying to focus on the mission at hand. Sometimes I wake up at night and say if this thing goes well this can really help people put a lot of things behind ‘em. Yes, that thought has crossed my mind. But I can’t allow myself to think like that. We’re a little bit like these teams. You can’t think what it’s like to win, you just gotta prepare. That’s been the attitude here."
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And like most Super Bowl teams, New Orleans has gone through its share of reconstruction, and then some. Carville was happy to point out the particulars.
"On the day of what I call the 'engineering failure' – you call it Katrina – there were 809 restaurants in this area. Today, there are 1,330. Right from the media center, there are 15 first-class places that exist now that did not even exist in 2002. You’re gonna be stunned. That weekend we estimate there will be 150 different bands playing. We know you guys gotta work your deadlines, but we really want you to enjoy our culture.
"There’s more music in this city that there’s ever been. The state of our culture is deep and it’s very strong."
Key to that culture is football, which Carville certainly understands as an LSU graduate. And as excited as he is about the game, Carville would have been even more so had a certain fellow Louisiana native been traveling down here right now, as opposed to prepping for Pro Bowl reps.
"I think most people here honestly would have liked to have seen Peyton," Carville said. "The Mannings are from here. Archie and Olivia live here. Cooper lives here. They’re like First Citizens of our community. I think most people were hoping Denver would get there. But anybody that knows sports or professional football knows like they say in the Marine Corps – hope in one hand and spit in the other and see which one fills up the fastest."
Well, sure. However, getting Carville talking about the actual game between the San Francisco 49ers and Baltimore Ravens did elicit some residual excitement.
"The more that I think about this matchup, the more I like it. I think we’ve got a first-class matchup here. One of the angles I’ve really talked about is this is probably the best culinary Super Bowl ever in terms of the location of the teams coming into play. I’m trying to encourage sort of a crab cookoff and doing things like that. All of these cities, the two teams that area playing and the host city, have distinctiveness about ‘em and a culture about ‘em. We’re gonna have 80,422 Harbaugh stories. But I was telling a friend of mine, you can’t overhype that. Two brothers coaching against each other in the Super Bowl, that’s just a big story. I’m sorry, it just is."
Matalin was just fine with the Super Bowl contestants. Had Eli or Peyton Manning played in a New Orleans, she quipped, "I think my husband might spontaneously combust."
And speaking of spontaneous combustion, there is the small matter of the NFL commissioner's arrival in a city that ... well, let's just say that there aren't too many banners around praising Roger Goodell to the hilt. The man who essentially put the Saints on hold for a full season in the name of alleged bounty evidence that looks flimsier and flimsier the more you look at it is trying his best to do damage control after the fact. Do you believe there's any other reason for the timing of the recent reinstatement of Saints head coach Sean Payton? Safe to say there are a few people in NOLA who would be very happy to sell you a bridge along the Mississippi.
Carville, for his part (or, at least what he says publicly), thinks the city has put the bounty scandal in the rear-view.
"Y’know, I think this thing is behind us. Coach Payton said, 'It’s behind me. I had a long meeting with the commissioner. I’m fine.' The truth is, the commissioner has a very long history of being helpful to this city. He really likes it. We’re a city that’s known for our hospitality, and we’re gonna be as hospitable as we can be to the commissioner. We’re delighted to have the NFL here. I think this thing is moving in the right direction and a good direction."
Others in the city aren't so sure. The "Refuse to serve Roger Goodell when he comes to NOLA for Super Bowl XLVII" Facebook page is gaining traction thanks to a mention in a recent Associated Press article, there were signs at the recent Krewe du Vieux parade that we cannot summarize here without getting fired, and the residents of at least one New Orleans home are dangling Goodell from their front porch in effigy. Less seriously, Kathy Anderson of the Parkview Tavern has a picture of Goodell on the dart board located in her establishment.
"We had a real shot of being the first team in history to host the Super Bowl in our own stadium," Anderson said. "He can't give that back to us."
What the NFL can give New Orleans is what it is giving, and will continue to give: a huge boost to its economy. In that regard, the 10th Super Bowl in the Big Easy might be the most important of them all.
"If not for Roger Goodell, we would not have this Super Bowl," Mayor Mitch Landrieu told the AP. "And we will need him since we want to host another one."
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