Having had our own favorite teams eliminated from the NFL Playoffs, my friends and I were dispassionate observers of yesterday's Super Bowl. We had a slight preference for a Saints victory, if only because it's easy to empathize with New Orleans' hurricane misfortunes and for the franchise's four decades of football futility. But we hoped to summon a more passionate stake in the game by watching it at the newly opened New Orleans themed restaurant in Pompano Beach, the French Quarter.
Besides, there was free jambalaya, discounted pitchers of the local lager, $3 hurricanes, a raffle and dozens of plasma TVs. All that, plus the company of over 350 rabid Saints fans made this setting second only to Sun Life Stadium for Super Bowl pageantry.
My God, how New Orleans people party! It was an auspicious sign when after the Saints won the opening coin toss, it brought a deafening, drunken ovation. On one side of our booth was a family that had flown to South Florida from New Orleans -- the patriarch wearing an expression like he was about to hear the verdict from a death penalty jury.
On the other side were two couples. None in that party could sit still for more than a minute. The women wore Marques Colston and Darren Sharper jerseys. One of the men was wearing a Drew Brees jersey and a Saints bandanna. He paced incessantly, chain-smoking and doing shots to calm his nerves.
For most of the first quarter, with Peyton Manning carving up the Saints secondary, the joint was tense, full of dread. The "Who Dat" chants took an hour hiatus. Had there been a Colts fan in the place, he'd have risked his life by cheering.
But by the second half, as the Saints mounted their comeback, the place had that near-riot vibe that is a New Orleans trademark. You don't know whether to join the madness or run like hell before it spills into violence. The broad-shouldered bandanna man was doling out high-fives like he wanted to rip off your limb. He couldn't resist pounding the table after big plays -- good or bad. It toppled glasses, but the mess didn't seem to bother the bar's owner, who was too busy mumbling a narration of the game through a static-filled mic.
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When Tracy Porter made the interception that sealed the game, the cheer nearly blew the roof. Strangers were embracing, dancing in the aisles. A terrified one-month old wearing a Reggie Bush jersey was screaming mutely into the din.
To our horror, the wait staff handed out free shots of Red Bull, along with free glasses of champagne and beads. A group of women took out white handkerchiefs and performed some kind of rumba line. Amid this drunken, swirling mass of people a 60-something woman at the next table climbed atop her narrow bar stool, swaying to the Saints theme song and accepting high-fives. One false step would have sent her on a hip-shattering fall, but her family was too jubilant to talk her down.
Helluva game. No one celebrates like Saints fans. Matter of fact, it looked a lot like this: the scene in the actual French Quarter.