Late-season reflections in the ’Dome

by Brian Clarey

I had the pleasure of sitting behind the river-side end zone in the Louisiana Superdome — excuse me, the Mercedes-Benz Superdome — a couple weeks ago as my beloved New Orleans Saints leveraged a convincing 31-17 victory over the Detroit Lions, paving their way to a division championship and playoff berth.

I endured a wave of déjà vu up there in the terrace, overlooking the field in a steep row of seats stacked so sharply I think I could huck a tennis ball to the 10 yard line.

I’ve seen these two teams in the Superdome before — on Sept. 21, 1997, when the Saints knocked off the Lions 35-17. I watched a good portion of that game on the TV in the Superdome’s mezzanine bar, and after it was over I somehow managed to weasel my way into the hallway between the locker room and the player’s parking lot, where I collected high fives until I was asked to leave.

Anyhoo…. I wasn’t around when Katrina hit, but I saw the city’s poorest and least-prepared people brave the floodwaters of the Central Business District to find shelter there, and a few months later I saw with my own eyes the ravaged, convex roof, shredded from high winds and debris.

I was there in 1998, the first time the city used the Superdome as a storm shelter, when Hurricane Georges swept through the Gulf of Mexico, headed for the mouth of the Mississippi River. The storm veered east just before landfall, sparing the city but not the ’Dome, which was looted by those it sheltered after the rains passed by, right down to the closed-circuit

TVs and the stadium seats, another absurd chapter in the city’s history.

The Superdome’s undergone a few facelifts since the last time I stepped inside it, in 1999, the details of which are lost to the ether. A new field. More seating. Escalators and elevators. Cosmetic improvements to both the interior and exterior. They’ll hold the Super Bowl there this year, and it’s possible the Saints will be playing in the mage, making it the first time in NFL history the host city’s team has played in the big game.

Let’s talk football for a minute. At 10-3 and with a guaranteed spot in the playoffs, the Saints benefit from a soft lateseason schedule. They should be able to handle the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday to clinch the division; they may have trouble with division rivals the Atlanta Falcons the week after, but a loss to the Carolina Panthers in the ’Dome on Week 17 is as likely as an arrest in the 1998 looting of said venue.

The only thing standing in their way is the Green Bay Packers, who beat the Saints in Week 1after a crazy shootout that saw 76 total points. That match-up should take place late in the playoffs, and will decide the winner of the NFC.

I’d take the over on that one. Prejudices riddle my affection for the AFC.

I simply do not care for the Miami Dolphins, New England Patriots, Houston Texans, Buffalo Bills, Jacksonville Jaguars or Pittsburgh Steelers, particularly when they’re winning, and for no good reasons.

I used to feel the same way about the Denver Broncos and that smug gimp John Elway, until he won me a bundle during Super Bowl XXXII. Or maybe it was Super Bowl XXXIII. Who can remember such things?

This year the Broncos have overachieved, largely on the arm of Tim Tebow, a pale, mookish southpaw with crab legs and naïfish eyes hailing from a golf town in northeast Florida, a Heisman winner known as well for his laserlike passes across the middle as he is for his obnoxious brand of Christianity.

Tebow was homeschooled by parents who trusted neither the private or public institutions in Florida’s education system, though they did game that system when looking for an appropriate high school program for their son to play ball in by setting up an alternate residence in a nearby town.

He likes to remind people that he was almost aborted when his mother fell into a coma while pregnant, likes to wear Bible verses on his eyepaint — or he did, until he was drafted into the NFL, which forbids such messages unless they pertain to athletic shoes or sports drinks. He was able to appear in commercials televised during last year’s Super Bowl funded by the political and media organization Focus on Family, which stands against equal rights, pornography, women’s reproductive choice and the teaching of evolution in schools., among other causes.

I find the organization loathsome, and Tebow’s association with it disturbing. But since he took over as Denver’s starting quarterback in Week 5, he’s won six games and kept the team in play9ff contention.

When a player is winning games in the NFL, I can forgive a lot of things, dogfighting, felony convictions, unlicensed firearms and questionable hairstyle and tattoo choices among them, so I suppose I can forgive Tebow his Jesus fetish… that is, unless he faces off against my Saints. But I don’t think a guy like Tebow stands a chance in a city like New Orleans anyway, let alone the Superdome, a place that God has occasionally forgotten.