It sounded like thunder; it felt like heaven.
This is what I remember of Sundays at the Superdome in New Orleans after the Saints scored a touchdown. An endless sea of black and gold. Fleur-de-lis paraphernalia that glistened under the stadium lights. More than 60,000 people on their feet, stomping, screaming, and singing; awash in one another’s delirium. Professional football is a centerpiece for many cities across the country, but it is difficult to imagine that there is a team that means more to a city than the Saints have meant to New Orleans.
My family has had season tickets for Saints games since I was a child. For as long as I can remember, for each Sunday home game, we have rotated our two tickets among the respective members of my family. Mom and Dad. Dad and me. Dad and little sister. Little sister and husband. Dad and little brother. Little brother and girlfriend. Little brother and me. The rotations evolved when one of us went off to college, when another of us moved away, and when we all came home for the holidays bartering Thanksgiving food across the table for a chance to see the hometown team.
As a child, I relished those Sundays I got to attend the games with my father. I loved parking the car a mile away and walking through downtown toward the Superdome surrounded by an ocean of other fans. I loved how we high-fived strangers and repeated “Who dat?!” back to anyone who howled the team’s mantra in our direction. I loved the sight of scalpers on the corner trying to sell last-minute tickets. I loved the sound of hopeful attendees haggling with them for a lower price. I loved the smell of beer and popcorn spread across the floor. I loved knowing I would get a hot dog and chicken tenders and french fries during halftime. I loved that I would spill ketchup on my jersey and that it wouldn’t matter to anyone because it was third and goal and our defense needed to make a big stop. I loved the time with my father, to see the thrill on his face as the game commenced and to feel the same thrill in my body.
My early memories of the Superdome are all noise and crowds and joyful chaos. They’re about people, about community. That’s why it’s been so strange, because of restrictions to stop the spread of COVID-19, to see the dome empty thus far this NFL season. To see it with no fans, devoid of the clamor I had come to know over decades.